Meeting Mascall

Have you met the Rev. Canon Eric L. Mascall, OGSMascall

He was affectionately named the “greatest living 13th-century theologian”. In his profound writings, he was often, simply styled, E. L. Mascall. If you have not made his acquaintance, the arrival of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday is an excellent opportunity. Mascall would have us see these feasts, as with the entire liturgical year, as an ongoing, living part of the Incarnation of our Lord. This past Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, was 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, eyes softened, voices went up an octave and a wonderful, blessed remembrance would follow. This involuntary homage would consistently replicate itself, be the interlocutor a cleric, scholar, former student or parishioner. Indeed, the only time I witnessed the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon ever get moist in the eyes is when he spoke of “my esteemed teacher”.

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, retaining his gentleness without compromising fundamental beliefs of historic and creedal Christianity. According to the Proceedings of the British Academy, “Thus in his latter days some of his strongest rebukes were administered to those Anglican theologians who undermined belief in Christ’s deity and resurrection.”

Fr. George Rutler, in a wonderful 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. His degree was in Mathematics, he took a First in the subject at Pembroke College, Cambridge.  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.

Mascall HandsRecently, 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.

(This edited and enhanced posting appeared previously on this blog)

About Mark J. Kelly

Mark J. Kelly is "Revert" to the Catholic Church, after being dazed and malformed by the liturgical experiments of the 60s and 70s, he was reoriented by dear Protestant friends, Anglican and Reformed, to whom he remains ever grateful. He is an active member of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (The Order of Malta)
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