Give Love and Receive the Kingdom

Essential People and Themes of English Spirituality

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Benedicta Ward
  • Orleans, MA: 
    Paraclete Press
    , June
     208 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Cuthbert's life of prayer “was not, for instance, the rosary, it was not the Stations of the Cross, it was not matins and evensong. . . . He was a man of his own time and place, and much about him ought to be alien, strange, perhaps at times entirely opaque" (4). This statement from Benedicta Ward's 2018 monograph Give Love and Receive the Kingdom: Essential People and Themes of English Spirituality is the through line with which Ward connects the spirituality of her literal and spiritual English forebearers. Ward's work, a collection of nine essays reprinted in one volume, seeks to examine the "unity of understanding within the changing settings of the disasters and challenges of life" (x) through the lens of monastic and early modern theologians, ranging from Bede and Cuthbert to the 17th-century Church of England divines of Lancelot Andrewes and Jeremy Taylor. Ward's work masterfully blends her scholarship on medieval England with the practical application of these saints' and theologians’ lives today; the author does not take them out of their historical context, but attempts to further understand and apply their spirituality to the reader’s lives through Christ as these divines once did centuries ago.

The crux of Ward's essays relies upon her definition and analysis of spirituality. Ward's definition specifically applies to the life of Cuthbert but holds true for her research of all the theologians, as she writes, "by 'spirituality,' then, I mean what Cuthbert himself thought and said and did and prayed in the light of the Gospel of Christ" (3). To this end, Ward’s book explores the actions of each figure through their record in history, their sermons, prayers, and reflections on “a stream of ever-moving pilgrims going towards the life of heaven” (xi).  

Most of Ward's work reflects upon medieval theologians, with a specific emphasis on Bede and his foundational work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Paraclete Press, 2018). Ward uses Bede as a lens to probe the relationship between monarchs and conversion, the psalter, and Bede's reflections as a follower of Christ. Ward's work is especially commanding in her elucidation of the 664 Synod of Whitby, arguing against the old 19th-century historical narrative of anti-Irish sentiments and instead presenting the synod as a cordial working out of the dates of Easter in the best way for these Christians to follow and serve Christ. Ward's erudition in analyzing the English theologians extends to the final chapters of her work, which examines the lives, sermons, and tracts of the Church of England divines Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, and Mark Frank. Far from abandoning their monastic heritage, these divines, according to Ward, connected the tradition of the church fathers and their deposit of the faith to the establishment of the Church of England in the 17th century.

Of note and interest to this reviewer are Ward's use of appendices at the end of each chapter. Specifically, her inclusion of the abbreviated psalter of the Venerable Bede (61–78) has great value to scholars interested in Bede's psalter but also serves as a practical devotional tool for reading and understanding the Psalms. Additions such as these appendices make the work an excellent starting point for scholars interested in English spirituality as well as those seeking to learn more about their spiritual heritage, serving as a window to the past of the examples of those gone before us.

Give Love and Receive the Kingdom serves as an excellent primer on the world of medieval and early modern devotion and spirituality. Ward masterfully achieves her goal to point the reader to the actions and challenges faced by English exemplars, which ultimately pointed them towards Christ. Ward's work is of interest to the scholar and believer alike, combining excellent scholarship with the practical wisdom of the figures they study, making this an accessible work for those interested in what it means to explore the depths of love and sacrifice throughout the history of the English church.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Tanner Moore is a doctoral student in early modern European history at Purdue University.

Date of Review: 
June 25, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Benedicta Ward is Reader in the History of Christian Spirituality in the University of Oxford. Her most recent book is Anselm of Canterbury: His Life and Legacy (SPCK 2009). She is a member of the Anglican monastic community of the Sisters of the Love of God.


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