We all know what is meant by "the Academic World" ... or do we? A sometimes overlooked area of academic importance and excellence is provided by booksellers who are, themselves, knowledgable and scholarly; and who understand what is passing through their hands. When I was an undergraduate, The Newman Bookshop, down St Aldates on the west side just by the chaplaincy, was a source of much fascination to me ... especially the Room at the Back. Kallistos Ware, incidentally, tells me that he was able to put together there a complete set of the dear old Eastern Churches Quarterly. I still treasure and enjoy a proof copy of Knox's In Three Tongues. The genius loci, Mr K Todd, told me to take it for free, but I insisted on giving him ten shillings.
Mr Todd has long since shut up shop; but, just a little way further South (at OX1 1RA), St Philip's Books is, perhaps, even more fascinating. The proprietor, Mr Christopher Zealley, is as generous in sharing his considerable expertise as he is amiable. And he recently drew my attention to a copy of Dom Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy.
Yes ... this must be one of the commonest books on clerical bookshelves ... so, as you are undoubtedly thinking, it is hardly surprising that yet another copy should have made its way into Mr Zealley's hands.
But this is a copy sent out for review; and it has within it a letter from Dom Gregory himself to the reviewer.
I will not spoil the pleasurable anticipation of whoever might purchase the book with the accompanying letter, by blurting everything out here. But, with Mr Zealley's kind permission, I can share with you one or two interesting details.
Dix wrote from Nashdom on 30 iii 1945 to thank Fr Conrad Pepler O.P. for his "very generous and kindly" review of Shape. He refers ... this will seem curious to us ... to his own "left-wing attitude". What this appears to mean by 'left-wing' is that Dix had written in a "scientific and critical" way; he later uses the words "my 'radicalism'". In other words, Dix did not crudely assert Catholic truth and demand assent; he argued everything through from the evidence, stage by stage, without presuppositions and prejudices.
When Dix wrote, he had in his sights the 'liberal notion', then very fashionable, that the Eucharist was invented by S Paul ... or somebody else ... as a Hellenistic-style Mystery Cult. Dix wrote, he tells Fr Pepler, "to substantiate the entirely Jewish (and unitary) origin of the rite, in the last supper and nowhere else".
To be continued on Sunday.