William Wilberforce was born into a wealthy banking family in Hull, Yorkshire, in 1759, and was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. A gifted public speaker, he entered Parliament as MP for Hull in 1780, and a few years later became a convinced Christian. Under the influence of John Newton (of ‘Amazing Grace’ fame), he decided to devote his parliamentary career to the advancement of Christian causes, especially the abolition of the slave trade. In 1797 he joined the Clapham Sect, a highly influential group of like-minded people who strongly believed that Christian principles should bear fruit in social action. As a result of Wilberforce’s hard canvassing within Parliament and the influence of the other members of the Clapham Sect outside, the slave-trade was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1807. Thereafter, Wilberforce applied himself to the abolition of slavery itself, a result which was achieved (for the British Empire) shortly before his death in 1833. He was also active in the founding of the Church Missionary Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society. His ‘day’ is 30th July.
From the Greek allegoria (allo = ‘otherwise’ and agoreuo = ‘to speak’). So, literally, an allegory is ‘a speaking otherwise’, ie, saying one thing to represent something else. The ‘something else’ is usually a moral quality, eg a virtue or vice, or a human passion. A work may be allegorical in two senses: it may be deliberately written as an allegory, the best-known example in Christian literature being John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Allegory of this kind involves a one-for-one correspondence between the characters, events and places in the narrative and the abstract quality they represent.
In this, allegory differs from many parables in that the meaning of the latter only emerges when the whole story is told, each part depending on the whole for its significance. Second, a written work or part of it may not be intentionally written as an allegory but may nevertheless invite an allegorical interpretation, along with other kinds of interpretation as appropriate. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in The Allegory of Love (a study of allegory in the courtly love tradition of mediaeval literature), the narrative of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt can be read as an allegory (or type) of the soul’s liberation from sin, but without detracting in any way from a literal reading of it as an historical account. Some of Christ’s parables can be read allegorically – eg the parable of the sower.
From the Greek para = ‘beside’, ‘alongside’, and bole = ‘a placing’. So a parable is a placing of something alongside something else. The ‘something’ is a story, narrative or extended image, and the ‘something else’ that it is placed beside is the moral or teaching that the story illustrates. But many NT parables are far more dynamic than this rather static description suggests. In the New Testament the ‘something else’ is usually the values or nature of the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus’s parables often embody or enact these values rather than simply illustrate them. A parable has similarities to an extended metaphor, but differs from it in that metaphor is local to its specific context of phrase or clause, whereas a parable is a kind of discourse of its own, often relying on the social and cultural context as much as on its own verbal context. This is what makes Jesus’s parables so often dynamic, as they challenge the accepted values and perspectives of His Jewish audience. Why speak in parables? Because they are more memorable than abstract discourse, and especially because there are some kinds of truth whose mode of speaking is oblique: as Emily Dickinson put it: “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”
St Benedict, one of the great names of early Christianity, is known as the Father of western monasticism. He was born in about 480 into a well-to-do family in Nursia, central Italy. As a young man he was sent to study the liberal arts in Rome but, disgusted by the corruption he found there, he withdrew into the country to live the life of a hermit.
His reputation for holiness attracted many disciples, some of whom remained with him to form a community of monks. In about 525 he moved south, with his monks, to the mountain of Monte Cassino where he founded the monastery with which his name is indelibly associated. He did not intend to create a monastic order, but the Rule which he wrote for his monks was so sane, balanced and wise that it was adopted by other monastic communities and remains to this day as a living model for the monastic life.
St Benedict died in 550 but Monte Cassino has survived as the chief house of the Benedictine Order, notwithstanding the disasters that have befallen it during its long history. The latest of these was its near-destruction by Allied bombing in 1944 (needlessly, as it happened) but it was rebuilt, and was reconsecrated by Pope Paul VI on 24th October 1964. A useful introduction to St Benedict is Esther de Waal’s Seeking God: the Way of St Benedict. St Benedict’s ‘day’ is 11th July.
A Word in Season