Rowan Williams remembers Charlie Moule

A few months ago I reported the death of Prof Charlie Moule, whom I had known when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and he was a distinguished professor.

I thank Doug Chaplin for reminding me that Charlie’s memorial service took place recently, on Saturday 9th February in Cambridge. The preacher was Archbishop Rowan Williams. This was at the height of the recent sharia law controversy, and it was after this service that Williams was briefly heckled, but he made no mention of that subject on this occasion. (I will resist the temptation to bring in connections between that subject and this memorial service, out of respect for Moule.)

Doug has provided a link to what Williams did say at this service: a moving tribute to his former tutor. Doug provided some extracts; here I make my own partially overlapping selections from the address.

It is impossible to guess how many people’s assumptions about the relation of scholarship to discipleship were turned upside down by Charlie … above all by his personal example. … [Students went to his rooms] to discover that so much of what we were struggling and arguing about could be held within a calm and prayerful perspective, within the hugely bigger intellectual and spiritual world that Charlie lived in.

I could count myself among the unguessable number of those whose “assumptions about the relation of scholarship to discipleship were turned upside down by Charlie”. In him I, as a young Christian in the world of scholarship, saw an example of how a fine scholar could also be a humble disciple. This was at least a part of what led me to turn away from that scholarly world, not in reaction against it but because that is where the life of discipleship led me.

Here is a point which Rowan Williams brings out from Moule’s work which is relevant to an ongoing issue for Bible translation, the meaning of “in Christ”:

Paul, he writes, ‘speaks of Christian life as lived in an area which is Christ’ (Origin of Christology, 95): … Christ is both the territory Christians inhabit and the one who inhabits it in and with us …

To return to Charlie’s personal example:

As in every holy person, living in the Spirit, Christ was happening in him. And Christ can happen in his disciples and lovers because he is risen, with utter literalness in the sense that there is no dead body to mark the memory of someone who has gone into the past, only the unqualified and limitless life that now ‘contacts’ us in the Spirit. …

He maintained that, in effect, you couldn’t understand what the gospel of either the incarnation or the resurrection claimed unless you had been touched by the life of the one who is always and everywhere ‘available and accessible’ (121). And part of that touch is always going to be in the lives of others who have been touched in the same way. We live because Christ lives, says St John; and so one of the many ways in which we know Christ lives is to see his disciples and friends living. And that was why Charlie preached the resurrection so consistently, by being Charlie.

… we thank God for the happening of Jesus crucified and risen in the life of our dear friend – in that outwardly even and uneventful life, in which so much happened for the enrichment, the conversion and the joy of all of us, in which the risen Lord made living contact with us. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Jesus Christ.

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