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GRACED LIFE – THE WRITINGS OF JOHN HUGHES MATTHEW BULLIMORE (ED.)

Attending a lecture on ‘Economic Responses to Poverty’ would not, normally, be at the top of my ‘To do’ list, but the lecture in question was in Alnmouth (where I live) and there was no real excuse

Br John introduces John Hughes

for me not attending it. The lecturer was a priest from Cambridge – the Dean of Jesus College to be precise – and seemed, from chatting over coffee, to be a nice and rather unassuming chap; the lecture would probably be a bit boring I thought (not having the least interest in economics) but at least I was showing support for the initiative and anyway, there wasn’t anything else to do… How wrong I was. I remember sitting utterly transfixed in the library (all thoughts of dozing forgotten) as John Hughes effortlessly surveyed the landscape of Catholic and Anglican responses to poverty suggesting, essentially, that what is usually termed ‘Catholic Social Teaching’ (i.e. the response of the Church to poverty, work, labor and economics) was more accurately understood as ‘Christian Social Teaching’ in which the Church of England could rightly claim to have a part (see Hughes’ 2014 essay ‘After Temple? The Recent Renewal of Anglican Social Thought’). On leaving the lecture everyone who was fortunate to attend was very much of the opinion that here was someone who would do great things over the next few years and someone who had important things to say. Unfortunately we were wrong in at least one regard because, just a few months after John Hughes came to talk to us, he died in a tragic car accident.

The book is, as its title suggests, a collection of essays by John Hughes and contains riches ‘too numerous to mention.’ The first essay ‘The Politics of Forgiveness: A Theological exploration of King Lear’of 2001 is of note not only because of its sheer brilliance but because it introduces certain Leitmotifsthat continue to appear throughout the collection. Hughes takes two apparently disparate secular notions of forgiveness, points out the shortcomings in both, and then argues for a better third way, a theological way predicated on Grace and Resurrection. This wish to gently draw the reader toward the Gospel and to see that same Gospel as something rational and helpful is seen in the essay ‘Proofs and arguments’ of 2011 (which first appeared in Andrew Davison’s collection Imaginative Apologetics). In this essay Hughes critiques the stridency of both modernist foundationalist and postmodern relativist apologetic arguing (yet again) for a different approach; a more gentle ‘modest Christian rationalism’ in which the questions directed towards people of faith are listened to, respected and answered.

There is much, much more to say about this brilliant and poignant book and a short review will never do it justice. One other thing of note, however, is the introductory essay by Matthew Bullimore. In this essay Bullimore (a longstanding friend) identifies many of the themes that run through the body of work as well as providing an affectionate portrayal of John Hughes ‘the man’. May his memory be a blessing!

 

Joseph Emmanuel SSF