- The impact of early Christianity on public life, and the beginnings of a modern concept of politics as something more than sacral kingship and raw power. Early Christians invented the concept of the secular, as their martyrs bore witness to a higher loyalty than the state. Augustine speaks of this world as organised selfishness and violence, but somewhere that can be worked on, against the grain. The church is not the kingdom of God, but you can find the kingdom reflected in it and it’s trying to be. You can labour to unite people around a shared vision of love, but usually all that will pull them together is social paranoia about a notional enemy out there, over and against whom you define yourself. This throws some light on the growth of state power and the “war on terror.”
- Primitive Christian concepts of God and the natural world. Once you have a vision of ordinary reality as the fruit of the free action of an intelligent being, you can assume some consistency and seek a rational handle on it all. The Incarnation makes material processes significant. The blue touch paper that leads from here to our own natural science involves encapsulations of Classical thought in 6th century Syria, mediated through and supplemented by Muslim sources, back to medieval Europe. Thinking of nature simply as a machine has achieved amazing things, but has its limitations.
- Early Christian concepts of the self as revealed in models of personal Discipleship from Origen to the desert Fathers, culminating in Book X of Augustine’s confessions. Grace remains the key concept. Much contemporary panic and anger about sex and the body is essentially Pelagian; which is why it’s dumb and overpromises/underdelivers.
Guided reflection with high class information and sharing around this material with about 20 colleagues was a rather joyful experience.
- Stepping back for a day from running the railway helps to put the minutiae of the day job in context. We live in a society that, like the ancient world, has largely lost its bearings. Sometimes Tradition gets hi-jacked by reactionary zealots who don’t really know much about it, to bolster their own insecurity and cosh their enemies. Christian tradition is actually a living resource, if you give it a chance.
- I’ve got some astonishingly thoughtful, perceptive and creative colleagues, with whom it’s a joy to work. There’s an amazing range and depth of talent, learning and good humour among them.
- Rowan lights up when you get him going on God. Perhaps that’s an essential quality in the nation’s holy man, but you’d probably have to go back to Cardinal Hume or Michael Ramsey to find someone as firmly grounded in, and passionate about, core Christian tradition and broad historical reality.