Secret History of Christianity, A
The forgotten story of Christianity, inward sight and life in all its fullness today.
Christianity is in crisis in the West. The Inkling friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, analysed why. He developed an account of our spiritual predicament that is radical and illuminating.
Barfield realized that the human experience of life shifts fundamentally over periods of cultural time. Our perception of nature, the cosmos and the divine changes dramatically across history.
Mark Vernon uses this startling insight to tell the inner story of 3000 years of Christianity, beginning from the earliest Biblical times. Drawing, too, on the latest scholarship and spiritual questions of our day, he presents a gripping account of how Christianity constellated a new perception of what it is to be human. For 1500 years, this sense of things informed many lives, though it fell into crisis with the Reformation, scientific revolution and Enlightenment.
But the story does not stop there. Barfield realised that there is meaning in the disenchantment and alienation experienced by many people today. It is part of a process that is remaking our sense of participation in the life of nature, the cosmos and the divine. It's a new stage in the evolution of human consciousness.
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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. This wasn't what I was expecting - in a good way. I'd slot this more solidly into the spirituality category, than necessarily straight up religious. I loved how Vernon wove together history, philosophy, and poetry with spiritual beliefs in a way that gets you thinking without feeling overwhelming or preachy. I'm not Christian, but I thought this was interesting, easy to read, and engaging. If you're interested in philosophy/spirituality/how Christianity has evolved over the years, I recommend reading this! ~ Liliyana Shadowlyn (Reviewer), NetGalley
Rating: 4.5 "intelligent, sustaining, hopeful" stars !! This was my 2019 Christmas read and I chose it at the exact right time for my spiritual development and practice. The book covers so much ground and is steeped in Ancient Israeli history, Greek Philosophy, the Gospels, depth psychology, science as a friend to spirituality, the nature of Jesus, aesthetics, poetry and everyday mysticism. Mr. Vernon captures all of these strands and weaves them into a most wonderful and museful tapestry. He invites the intuitive Christian to drop dogma and fully participate in the wonderful beauty of both earth and spirit. There is so much here to reflect on and has deepened my faith and provides further ideas of where to glide to in my continued consciousness raising in my practices of Christian faith and Buddhist meditation. ~ Jaidee Deableau (Reviewer), NetGalley
......... There is gold here about how Christianity needs to think differently if it wants to stay relevant and how it can do so by helping people look inward and consider their own relationships with faith and meaning. ~ Anne Maguire (Reviewer, NetGalley
Does consciousness evolve and, if so, in what way and with what implications for our understanding of, say, a religious tradition’s development over time? A tradition that, in this case, is, at least, from a ‘Western’ perspective, atrophying? Either retreating to the redoubt of a cogitatively dissonant ‘fundamentalism’ or flattened out to a thin liberal version of the secular with morally ‘uplifting’ stories attached. Can it yet be something other than these two alternatives and can a re imagination through the lens of an evolution of consciousness help? Owen Barfield thought it could...........Mark Vernon, in this beautifully written and artfully constructed book, uses Barfield’s key insights and amplifying historical and literary scholarship to trace the development of Christianity’s two founding traditions – Athens and Jerusalem – articulating how they embarked on similar journeys from original participation to an individualising break to a new sense of humanity’s place in the cosmos.................These two traditions, Vernon argues, merge in Christianity and give birth to a new dispensation, a new reconciling participation, witnessed to and embodied in the person of Christ.......... ~ David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer
Refreshing. Five stars! If I could give it more stars I would. Mark has transformed Jesus, the Bible, religion and God from a turgid swamp of paranoia into a refreshing breeze which wakes us up, lifts the spirits and encourages us to live fully, creatively and happily, even in the face of the myriad follies of modern life. "A Secret History of Christianity" covers sociology, philosophy, history, psychology, science, philology, theology, religion and anthropology. If you have an interest in any one of these topics you will find much to please you in this volume. Mark interweaves all these disciplines beautifully into a coherent exposition of his thesis that one must strive to enter the felt or mystical centre, common to all religions but "hard to see even when plainly spelt out". With great quotes throughout and references to Art and Poetry, Mark builds his case. Improve the clarity of your own vision. Read it. ~ Dee Bee (Educator), NetGalley
Forensic examination of the arguments of the New Atheists is not the only way of challenging galloping secularism. The authors of these books explore aspects of human experience that elude capture in abstractions: in particular, “a Christian imagination” (Timothy Radcliffe) and “mysticism” (Mark Vernon). They focus on what makes emotional sense, approaching human psychology through naturalistic, narrative and therapeutic perspectives. Neither offers a conventional exposition of theology, although both are serious Christian thinkers. Timothy Radcliffe, formerly Master of the worldwide Dominican Order, is notably open-minded. He has an engaging style and a wide cultural hinterland. He introduces Alive in God with the modest hope of opening the door into the Christian imagination for secularists and atheists and perhaps being “of some help” to believers. Mark Vernon left the Anglican priesthood to be a writer and psychotherapist. His book expands on the theory of Owen Barfield, the “last of the Inklings”, about the stages of evolution of human consciousness and the importance of the life of Jesus in that development. Timothy Radcliffe knows religion has become meaningless for many young people and shows how a Christian imagination can light up the world, especially in the face of suffering. The cover of Alive in God shows Matisse’s energetic “La Danse” from the Hermitage. Radcliffe insists that “fullness” can only be sought among “the messy stuff of people’s lives, what they suffer and enjoy”. He never belittles non-Christians but believes secularism cannot bring full human flourishing. He chides Christians who have an “odd and restrictive” idea about what Jesus meant by “choose life”. Rather than defining “being alive in God”, Radcliffe exemplifies it by following the New Testament narrative from the point when Jesus summons the disciples to go with him to Jerusalem, through his teaching, death and resurrection. Radcliffe then probes how the disciples persistently misunderstood the point of the journey to Jerusalem, did not always comprehend what Jesus meant in his teaching, so much of it in ambiguous parables about abundant life and the Kingdom of God, or understand the non- violent response that led to Jesus’s ignominious death. Yet by teaching and example Jesus invited his disciples “to grow up”. Using the framework of John’s Gospel narrative, Radcliffe draws parallels between its events and core human dilemmas and experiences represented in particular lives and in visual art, poetry, film, literature and popular culture. Much of the book’s persuasiveness comes from these accessible and vivid examples. The range is immense and shows how steeped in life this celibate friar is. In A Secret History of Christianity Mark Vernon covers allied terrain and with a matching intensity, but uses Owen Barfield’s theory of human consciousness as his framework. Vernon believes the Churches have neglected the ancient mystical message of Christianity, its “secret”, and this is largely responsible for emptying the pews, although the rise of science, the impact of the Reformation, and the separation of psychology from spirituality have contributed to the decline. What has been lost is the classical recognition that God is not another being like us, but the very ground of being, “the poetry in the poem … the pulse of the cosmos”. This mystical truth “must be inhabited to be understood” through reorientation of life. Vernon uses Barfield’s model to set out both the problem and its solution. Barfield proposed a three-stage evolution of human consciousness. The first is “original participation”. Life is a continuous flow of vitality between humans and other animals or natural objects, between humans and gods, past and present, the cosmos and human consciousness. The sense of individual distinctiveness and self- consciousness is barely present, as existence is essentially collective and connected. (Anthropologists often call this “dividuality”, where the self is “porous” and shared rather than individuated.) The second stage corresponds to what other scholars call the Axial Age, occurring in the final centuries before the birth of Christ. Barfield terms it “withdrawal of participation”, because of the emergence of individual consciousness. He emphasizes the appearance of quasi-science which cast doubt on old myths, and in the West the birth of philosophy. The Hebrew prophets introduced novel religious notions and both Greeks and Hebrews developed ideas of moral responsibility. The third stage Barfield calls “reciprocal participation”. Each individual is seen as having an inner consciousness and a soul, but also finds in them a reflection of the order of nature, of the cosmos and of God. The life of Jesus exemplifies this type of consciousness. Barfield treated his three stages not as linear but cyclical. Vernon uses this as his clue to the renewal of the Church. The early sections of A Secret History of Christianity examine the historical intersection of Hebrew religion and the Greek philosophical tradition in the global culture of the Roman Empire, charting the switch from “original participation” to the point when individuals acquire a sense of distinct being which is both liberating and a source of anxiety. The central chapters examine what Vernon calls “Christ’s breakthrough in the evolution of human consciousness”. It restores participation, dispersing anxiety. This is projected by Paul into the Mediterranean provinces of the Roman Empire inaugurating “Christianity’s high noon”. Early Christianity introduced two portentous changes that fundamentally shaped Christian civilization. The first was belonging not to kin but to the community and network of believers; the second was the concept of free will. Vernon is a probing and psychologically subtle analyst of the New Testament narrative and particularly illuminating on the parables, unpacking the paradox of how eternal life can exist here and now rather than in an eschatological future. His discussion has much in common with Timothy Radcliffe’s exposition of being “fully transparent to God”. Vernon, like Radcliffe, welcomes the body and its natural life. Reservations come not from asceticism but from recognizing that “alongside knowledge of God, all things are seen for what they are”. Divine will and human agency are not in conflict in this conception of freedom which can only be grasped if one has eyes to see. Vernon’s treatment of what it means to be saved, as well as his interpretation of the resurrection, rest on his understanding of how the Christian imagination operates in the psychological consciousness into which Jesus inducted his followers. It is poetic, paradoxical and its truths come in metaphors. Vernon believes that the past 500 years have prepared the way for Christianity’s secular decline. In Barfield’s model, consciousness reverted from the participatory consciousness exemplified in Jesus, back to “withdrawal of participation” through the intensified individualism and anxiety initiated by the Reformation and accelerated by the rise of science. (There is striking congruence with the philosopher Charles Taylor’s account of the development of the modern identity.) Vernon recognizes the many benefits of these developments but sees the cost as the loss of “Christ-consciousness”. The rediscovery of a consciousness fully interrelated with God and the created world can only come if “we all become mystics”. That will involve an imagination that can visualize participation in God and in his creation. Vernon uses poets such as Blake, Donne and Traherne to exemplify this imagination. The religious experience that such a vision yields is poetic and self-forgetful: “The imagination is a sixth sense. It can tell that the Kingdom of God is within you”. Timothy Radcliffe and Mark Vernon have the psychological and spiritual myopia of contemporary culture in their sights. Today’s secular young have recognized the disastrous legacy of a culture dominated by utilitarian calculation and modern selves “liberated” to pursue self-interest that has priority over connection and obligation to others and to the natural world. These books respond to this disquiet and to the hunger for more satisfying meaning. ~ Bernice Martin, The TLS
In ‘Philology and the Incarnation’, one his most provocative and theological essays, Owen Barfield describes the shock that a philologist might feel when investigating the mutations of meaning that occur in the history of our languages. Barfield's own etymological investigations led him to believe that the honest researcher would conclude that somewhere between Alexander the Great and Augustine of Hippo a powerful shift in the human comportment to language and meaning-making must have taken place. Barfield goes on to describe the surprise and delight that such an investigator would feel upon discovering that "at about the middle of the period which his investigation had marked off, a man was born who claimed to be the son of God, and to have come down from Heaven, that he spoke to his followers of ‘the Father in me and I in you’, that he told all those who stood around him that ‘the kingdom of God is within you’, and startled them, and strove to reverse the direction of their thought—for the word ‘metanoia’, which is translated ‘repentance’, also means a reversal of the direction of the mind—he startled them and strove to reverse the direction of their thought by assuring them that ‘it is not that which cometh into a man which defileth him, but that which goeth out of him’." Like Lewis and Tolkien, both of whom he deeply influenced, Barfield's Christianity was at the centre of his literary and scholarly work, but his faith has received far less attention than that of any of the other primary Inklings. For those interested in Barfield, then, the appearance of Mark Vernon's new eloquent, accessible, and richly stimulating work is cause to celebrate. What kind of book is this? It is notable that Vernon's A Secret History of Christianity does not mention Barfield by name in its title or subtitle. This is fitting, for Vernon's volume is not a study of Barfield so much as it is an attempt to think with Barfield about the changing nature of faith in the light of what both Barfield and Vernon refer to as the ‘evolution of consciousness’. It is also a surprisingly personal and even urgent book. Vernon states at the outset that this book is occasioned by a kind of crisis both within Christianity and within the West more generally. Where others might look to sociological, political, economic, or even philosophical reasons for the collapse of Christianity in precisely those cultures over which it once held such powerful sway, Vernon argues that we need attend equally to the interior, even mystical dimensions of this event. This is why Barfield and his vision of Christianity are so important for Vernon's project: Barfield provides Vernon a way to think a living Christianity without collapsing it into either a dogmatic confessionalism and an extrinsic guarantee of salvation, on the one hand, or a liberal project for the amelioration of morals and the achievement of justice, on the other. This mystical, interior element is the secret aspect of the history that, with Barfield's help, Vernon recounts: a history of the transforming consciousness of human beings in their relationships to the world, one another, and God, a history whose centre point is found in the life of the one who was known as Son of Man and Son of God. Readers of Barfield's Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry will recognise much of that seminal work in Vernon's own book and in the above description. Indeed, one might be tempted to think of Vernon's Secret History as a commentary or even a continuation of Saving the Appearances. Vernon himself describes the project this way: The aim of my secret history is to show how, through imaginatively engaging with him, as well as testing his ideas against the findings of recent scholarship, [Barfield] offers an invaluable diagnosis of the malaise of or our times… . I believe his insights can help make sense of Christianity not only to those who faithfully, if somewhat uncertainly, still go to church, but also potentially to the many who increasingly recoil from it. (5–6) This dual aim of imaginative engagement and rigorous testing in the face of contemporary scholarship characterises every chapter of Vernon's work, and, for those interested in Barfield, it is deeply rewarding. Throughout his varied corpus, Barfield had sketched an account of the Western evolution of consciousness that moved from original participation—an experience of being in which one is immersed and porous to a kind of sea of meaning proceeding from the world itself, a world that bestows enchantment but for that very reason also to some extent bondage—through a developing sense of personal interiority that eventually leads to a more pronounced conception of the self, including the dignity and freedom of human selfhood. The paradox of all of this is that the emancipatory achievement of a sense of human individuality and worth coincides with a scouring of the world of its own interiority and importance. The historical achievement of human dignity involves a kind of robbery in which the meaning of the world is exclusively concentrated in the privileged interiority of human selves. So we proceed from original participation through a middle period that Vernon calls ‘reciprocal participation’ to the alienation and putative, if not actual, disenchantments of modernity and our own epoch. But for both Barfield and Vernon, this is not a declension narrative, for the disenchantment we supposedly experience at present is only an epochal phenomenon, an episode along the way towards a renewal of participation that will reconcile our newfound sense of humane selfhood with the interiorities of the world itself: this is what Barfield calls final participation, but Christians might speak of more traditionally as new creation or the redemption of all things (cf. Romans 8). Following Barfield, Vernon recounts this same general story but does so with some markedly different emphases while also bringing Barfield's mid-twentieth-century scholarship into twenty-first-century conversations. The most notable difference lies in Vernon's treatment of the Greco-Roman lineage. Trained in ancient philosophy (as well as theology and physics), Vernon's easy familiarity with the primary sources here is evident and provides a far richer treatment of this period than Barfield ever did. Vernon's readings of Socrates and Plato through to antique Stoicism are deeply rewarding and worth the price of the book alone. Not only of interest to Barfieldians, Vernon provides a richly participatory account of these originary philosophical traditions as spiritual paths in their own right. However, where much of the contemporary retrieval of philosophy as a spiritual practice takes a muscular Stoic shape, Vernon's Barfieldian reading moves in a more Christian and grace-infused direction, thus providing a crucial corrective to one of the central ongoing debates in the history of philosophy today. Vernon also updates Barfield's scriptural scholarship and convincingly shows how Barfield's theses have not only survived but have grown more salient and convincing throughout the decades. To my eyes, this is one area where Vernon could have, in fact, gone further, for he tends to draw largely upon authors associated with the so-called third quest for the historical Jesus, the heyday of which was in the 1990s. Vernon calls, for instance, upon John Meier, John Dominic Crossan, and others who flourished in the previous century, but his Barfieldian Christology might have been even more profoundly supported by what Crispin Fletcher-Louis has called the ‘emerging consensus’ of recent scholarship around the defence of an early high Christology à la Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, and others. That said, Vernon's treatment of prehistory, early Hebrew and Greek sources, and the medieval period are profound and add depth to Barfield's own exploration of these periods. Vernon's account and naming of ‘reciprocal participation’ throughout the Middle Ages, for example, is richly illuminating and builds upon what Barfield only suggested. The final chapters of Vernon's book deal with the elision of participation during the Reformation, the scientific revolution, and the reaction to these historical events. In comparison with the chapters on pre-modernity, these chapters feel rather rushed, as does Vernon's Romantic defence of a kind of mystical, imaginative renewal in the final chapter. Following Barfield, Vernon looks forward to a form of participation that would not abolish the individuality so delicately forged through the crucible of alienation. Vernon looks not for a return to a mystical past but for a properly mystical modernity or postmodernity. However, one might wonder, what parts of modernity remain essential as contrasted with those that are merely epochal? It has something to do with selfhood, human dignity, and perhaps a measure of autonomy, but these are rather abstract guidelines. In a similar vein, we might wonder, what is the nature of the mysticism to which Barfield's vision and scholarship calls us? For that matter, what concrete practices and social transformations might lead us towards the renewed imaginative, participatory engagement with God and the world to which Vernon and Barfield are clearly inviting us? These are profound questions raised by Vernon's compelling book, and the fact that they remain unanswered is no criticism. Vernon and Barfield, I suspect, equally aim to lure their readers into an existential, spiritual, and intellectual engagement with the world that presents itself more as a mystery to be encountered than a solution to be codified. For his part, Barfield himself, in an interview given late in his life to Shirley Sugerman, speculated that it would likely take another fifty years before his work would bear the fruit he wished for it. This was in the early 1970s. The appearance of Vernon's rich volume half a century later suggests that on this point, as on so many others, Barfield was conspicuously prescient. If so, Vernon's works marks the beginning—but by no means the end—of the assimilation of the radical Christian vision of history that Owen Barfield bequeathed to us more than half a century ago. ~ Jacob Sherman, Journal of Inkling Studies
The Owen Barfield Award for Excellence 2020 The Award for Excellence was established in 2010 by the Literary Estate as an annual recognition of outstanding contributions to furthering the understanding of Barfield’s work. https://owenbarfield.org/the-owen-barfield-award-for-excellence/ ~ Owen A Barfield, Owen Barfield Literary Estate
It might be assumed from a glance at the title of this book that its author is going to let us into a long-suppressed secret about Christianity – something to do with the Knights Templar, perhaps, or the occult – that will shatter our perceptions of the religion. Vernon is not interested in secrets like these. But he is very interested in the way that a deep engagement not just with Christianity but with the truths preserved in other religions and wisdom traditions can shatter everything we think we know about the world. As a former Anglican priest with a PhD in ancient Greek philosophy and degrees in physics and theology, he is well placed to try and deal with these issues. But Vernon is also a psychotherapist and it is perhaps this perspective that makes the approach he takes to Christianity so enthralling... (cont https://besharamagazine.org/newsandviews/a-secret-history-of-christianity/) ~ Jonathan Sunley, Beshara Magazine
READERS of this book are doubly rewarded. First, a panoramic overview of Judaeo-Christian history reveals a positive prospectus for the revival of faith in our time. Second, the neglected ideas of Owen Barfield, the Inkling overshadowed by J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis, are given a new lease of life. Barfield contended that human experience of life shifted cyclically through three phases over time: “original participation”, “withdrawn participation”, and “reciprocal participation”. Participation refers to the felt experience of participation in life. “Original participation” dominates when life is experienced as a continuous flow of vitality between what is “me” and “not me”. Barfield writes: “Early man did not observe nature in our detached way. He participated mentally and physically in her inner and outer processes.” “Withdrawn participation” happens when there is a shift from the sense of being immersed in the life of others, nature, and the gods. A person will begin to sense that he or she has an inner life that is relatively speaking his or her own. “Reciprocal participation” describes a phase when an individual has a sense of belonging to himself or herself while also reflecting the inner life of nature, the cosmos, and God. The opening chapters trace these phases through the history of Israel, which saw the gradual emergence from “original participation” into a phase of individual self-consciousness, as it became a people of the book, and then had that sense of “withdrawn participation” challenged under the influence of Greek philosophy, especially Socrates — “the Athenian Moses”. So it was into an emerging phase of “reciprocal participation” that Jesus was born. The full implications of these subtle shifts of consciousness are revealed in the incarnation. The central two chapters examine Jesus’s teaching, life practices, death, and resurrection through the lens of Barfield’s taxonomy. If the phase of “withdrawn participation” had realised the positive potential of individual self-consciousness, it had also subjugated any sense of participation in nature and the being of God. Jesus manifested how human minds might be reconnected with the world and the divine. Vernon’s account of how this happens is full of original insights, creative exegesis, and robust challenges to mainstream teaching and preaching. Jesus attracted people back from the perils of pathological individualism and disenchantment. He invited them to embrace the Kingdom of God, offering, here and now, fullness of life whereby “someone can be fully human and fully transparent to God.” Jesus does not so much save us as enable us, by following his example, to save ourselves. While the first 1500 years of the Common Era represented the high noon of Christianity as “reciprocal participation”, the Reformation initiated a new era of participative withdrawal. It led to the age of science and heightened respect for individuality with many positives worth celebrating, but at the expense of a Christ-like consciousness of meaning-full human interrelationship with creation and Creator. The time has now come when “we must be mystics” — the theme of the final chapter. Here, Vernon promotes a return to the centrality of religious experience and poetic imagination. The imagination can be revelatory, as it brings new perceptions into being, but it also enables us to participate in the inner being of things and attain to an apprehension of God — “the human I am sharing mystically in the divine I AM . . . finding delight as co-workers, participating in the life of God”. If Christianity is to recover its former relevance and vitality in contemporary culture, it will be along the lines of Barfield’s model of “reciprocal participation” — and perhaps the future of our planet in the face of climate change requires no less as well. The title may be just a little melodramatic, and in such an ambitious project there is always the risk of evidence being managed to fit a predetermined template. But, with Barfield as his guide, Vernon makes a convincing case that a Church in decline cannot afford to ignore. ~ John Saxbee, The Church Times
7. A Secret History of Christianity, by Mark Vernon (Christian Alternative, £14.99) (-) ~ Top 10 best selling religious books September 2019, The Church Times
In a short space, and in a remarkably lucid style considering the intellectual heft of his subject matter, Mark Vernon brings together a great many insights into Christianity which, if not entirely new, he puts in a new light with reference to the peculiar philosophy of Owen Barfield. If, like me, you’ve tried tackling Barfield on the strength of his reputation (for instance, coming to his works via Verlyn Flieger’s seminal treatment in Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien’s World) and found his writing difficult to get into, Vernon’s approach here is welcome. He eschews the more academic, close-reading analysis of major texts in favor of a richly allusive introduction to them. In Vernon’s encouraging retelling, we get the context for the Christian story from its Hebrew and Greek roots through to its efflorescence, reformation, and decline as a religious and cultural force, rapidly bringing us all the way from the prophets and Plato right up to the present moment. ~ Wesley Schantz, A Pilgrim in Narnia blog
"In this account, Christianity is not so much an argument but a new way of being in the world. Vernon is not particularly interested in using Barfield to mount an intellectual defence of the Christian faith — it’s more like an invitation to dance... "Vernon’s work is a joy to read and a marvellous place to start." ~ Madeleine Ward, Theos Think Tank
Mark Vernon, in this beautifully written and artfully constructed book, uses Barfield’s key insights and amplifying historical and literary scholarship, to trace the development of Christianity’s two founding traditions – Athens and Jerusalem. http://ncolloff.blogspot.com/2019/08/mystics-of-imagination.html?m=1 ~ Nicholas Colloff, Golgonooza blog
"It is surprising, then, that Mark Vernon's splendid new book about Barfield and the evolution of consciousness does not contain a single reference to Rudolf Steiner." [The review is generally appreciative, though focuses on the importance of Steiner to Barfield and that this is missing from my book.] ~ Jonathan W. Chappell, Temenos Academy Review
In this remarkable and timely book Mark Vernon helps us to recover a lost tradition in the Christian faith. At a time when the outer forms of Christianity seem to be in a state of exhaustion and confusion, he recalls us to an inner experience of Christ, a call to transformation of both vision and consciousness. In doing so he brings back into central focus neglected thinkers like Owen Barfield, poets and mystics like Blake and Traherne. He offers us a movement from the outer to the inner, from discourse about faith to a lived sense of the inner life of the Kingdom. ~ Malcolm Guite, poet and author of Mariner, the biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Mark Vernon’s A Secret History of Christianity rescues Owen Barfield from undeserved obscurity in the shadows of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis but in the process does so much more than that. By tracking Barfield’s careful attention to how words are used and what they say about the users, he lifts our eyes, expands our horizons and reintroduces imagination into our shared religious life. We are richer for reading him, and Barfield, and listening carefully to what they have to say. ~ Nick Spencer, author of The Evolution of the West, and Research Director, Theos
Mark Vernon provides fresh insights into the role of Judaism, ancient Greek philosophy, Jesus Christ, Church history, mysticism and imagination in the evolution of Western consciousness. His book gives an intriguing new perspective on where we are today. A brilliant overview. ~ Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, biologist and author of The Science Delusion
This is a book I wish I had written. Mark Vernon offers a forensic diagnosis of the Church’s ills and invites us to recover an authentic and life-giving Christianity. ~ Angela Tilby, Church Times columnist, author, and Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford
Mark Vernon's A Secret History of Christianity introduces us to two individuals whom he eloquently argues embody a vital, creative response to the spiritual malaise of our time. One we have heard of and think we know, the other is practically unknown. Their names are Jesus Christ and Owen Barfield. The Jesus you'll find in this urgent, thoughtful work may surprise you, but the real surprise is Barfield. Why isn't such an insightful and necessary thinker better known? Vernon answers that question and among other things shows that by getting to know Barfield we may get to know a rather different Jesus too. ~ Gary Lachman, author of Lost Knowledge of the Imagination and Dark Star Rising
Running as the golden thread through Mark Vernon's remarkable panorama of Christianity are the extraordinary heterodoxies of Owen Barfield, last of the Inklings and in some ways the greatest. In this thrilling overview Vernon explores how the fulcrums in the history of human consciousness lead to radical deployments in our cosmogenies. Crucial to this is the sweep of human imagination and here Barfield joins hands with the other Inklings in their insistence that beyond our mundane sphere lie far richer worlds invisible. ~ Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Palaeobiology, University of Cambridge
In this fascinating study, Mark Vernon reminds us of the often overlooked truth of the Christian faith - that it is not there to inform us but to form us. Introducing us to the thought of Owen Barfield and the need for mystics in a flat time, this is a celebration of the 'wholespeak' of poetic belief and not the 'narrowspeak' of so much that peddles itself as religion in our day. The secret is, as Mother Maria Skobtsova said, 'Either Christianity is fire or there is no such thing'. ~ Mark Oakley, Dean, St John's College, Cambridge
Mark Vernon has bravely stepped forward to point out what my grandfather called the taboo subject of our era; namely that people's experience of being alive evolves over time and that the pivotal moment of human evolution was two millennia ago. He invites us to step up and share the bigger view of incarnational awareness. From this new perspective, the secret history of Christianity is revealed. ~ Owen A. Barfield, grandson of Owen Barfield
An extremely illuminating book, which takes the reader on a revelatory journey to the spiritual heart of Christianity, uncovering its connection to ancient Greek philosophy and other spiritual traditions. Mark Vernon is such a fluent and clear writer that he makes profound spiritual and esoteric concepts completely accessible. ~ Steve Taylor, author of The Leap, Spiritual Science and other books.