Meeting Mascall

A Guest Post by M.J. Kelly
Have you met the Rev. Canon Eric L. Mascall, OSG? In his profound writings he was often, simply styled, E. L. Mascall. If you have not made his acquaintance, this Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018 is a perfect date to do so. It is the twenty-fifth anniversary of his departure from this life. He left a legacy, in print and in his person, that continues to affect the Anglican Patrimony. I never knew Eric Mascall in the flesh but I remember the first time I “met” him. I encountered Eric Mascall by contemplating the foreheads of his friends.
Whenever discussing a subject touching upon Anglicanism or 20th Century theologians with someone over forty-five, I will usually ask, “Did you know Eric Mascall?” The reaction remains fairly universal; a pause, a thoughtful bow of the head, followed by a slow intake of breath that gives way to a warm smile, then these or similar words follow, “Oh yes, Eric Mascall… You know, he was the finest…” and as the freshly reflected face rises to normal bearing it is always a happier countenance. In all cases of this inquiry: faces warmed, eye softened, voices went up an octave and a wonderful, blessed remembrance would follow.
Eric Mascall continues to stand out for a number of pleasantly peculiar reasons. He was a Thomist in the Church of England, a gentle and pastoral priest, he found he was best suited for teaching and writing Theology. Devotion and doctrine were happily wed in this celibate man who involved himself in the controversies of the time. His degree was in Mathematics, he took a First in the subject at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Fr. George Rutler, in an excerpt concerning Mascall from his book, Cloud of Witnesses – Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, warmly commends Mascall to us, “As the finest Thomist among the dying breed of High Anglicans, he was called the greatest living 13th-century theologian, but he had been trained as a mathematician and was prepared for the 21st century…” Of particular interest to members of the Ordinariate, Fr. Rutler adds, “Eric foresaw the decline of his ecclesial Communion and left me with no doubt that, had he lived, he would have acknowledged the infallibility of the pope.”
Eric Mascall was something of an autodidact. According to his obituary in the Independent, Mascall tended to make a slight boast of the fact that he had never had formal theological training. Yet he held such learned posts as: Lecturer in Theology Christ Church Oxford 1945-46, Student and Tutor 1946-82 (Student Emeritus), University Lecturer in Philosophy of Religion 1947-62, Professor of Historical Theology King’s College London 1962-73 (Emeritus), Dean Faculty of Theology London University 1968-72. Honorary Canon of Truro Cathedral 1973-84.
Recently, one of Mascall’s earliest works, Christ, the Christian, and the Church: A Study of the Incarnation and Its Consequences has been happily republished by Hendrickson on October 1, 2017 and available at Amazon and other booksellers. Gerald McDermott in his Forward to the republished Christ and the Christian Church notes that Mascall’s theology was hailed for being wide-ranging, incisive, and elegant, and more importantly, “Mascall’s balanced focus on the Incarnation eliminates the false binaries that bedevil so much of the Church today.” For Eric Mascall living in the Church was living in the Body of Christ. The Incarnation is the ultimate and ongoing unitive event in human history, the very meeting place of God and Man.
St. Benedict, in the 48th chapter of his Rule, informs us that Lent is a time of increased spiritual reading. He provided additional time for and insisted on a cover to cover reading of edifying books. I encourage you in this Lenten season to take up on of Eric Mascall’s works, and meet Mascall for yourself and find a ready guide for your soul.

About Charles A. Coulombe

I am a Catholic Historical speaker and author.
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