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Book Corner March 2006

Godly and Righteous, Peevish and Perverse: Clergy and Religious in Literature and Letters: an Anthology

Compiled by Raymond Chapman
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002. xiii, 267 Pp

                              Reviewed by Dr. Leonard M. Hummel

I found this book to be a very enjoyable read, and I suspect that anyone with any kind of abiding interest in the lives of clergy and religious will make a similar find.  The compiler (i.e. editor and commentator) summarizes his work this way:

What we have in fact is a very motley collection of human beings sharing a common role and a common status.  Here are the saintly and the venial, the pious and the worldly, some noisy, some reserved, some admirable and some a little absurd but, it is hoped, forming an essentially lovable company (xiii).

Most readers will recognize from their reading, as well as their personal experience, all the characters above.

            Chapman’s compilation is derived from literature and belles lettres of the past three centuries, with a large proportion from the nineteen century.  He organizes his entries into chapters with titles from the Book of Common Prayer.  They are “Godly, Righteous and Sober,” “Erred and Strayed,” “Divers Orders,” “To Instruct the People,” “Then Shall Follow the Sermon,” “Such Things as He Possesseth,” “Forsaking All Worldly and Carnal Affections,” “An Honorable Estate,” “Factious, Peevish and Perverse” “Joyful in the Lord” “In Sundry Places,” and “All Sorts and Conditions.”  To be sure, some of the types represented in these chapters overlap, but Chapman provides engaging commentaries on all the entries that highlight the distinctiveness of each.  Indeed, given the plethora of material the compiler must have had at hand, these entries are well-organized and well-selected.  A handy “Index of Authors Quoted” (with entries by Trollope, Stowe, Eliot, Hardy, and both Samuel Butlers), as well as an “Index of Clergy” (with references to Ernst and Theobald Pontifex, Edward Casaubon, and Patrick Brontė) will assist those readers who wish a more direct return to the sources of reading pleasure.

            While most of the entries are from English literature and letters, the compiler carefully suggests comparisons that may be made to those of other lands and other traditions.  The simple mix of fiction and non-fiction does not detract from the volume.  However, I do wish for a closer analysis of the rhetorical devices and intents employed by the authors of the cited literary works.  That wish leads me to hope that someone, somewhere might produce soon a work that explores the imaginative portrayal of religious and clergy and how those portrayals might be employed for formation in religious life.