Entering the Mysteries of God

Stratford Caldecott


Raymond Edwards chose it as one of the Tablet's "Books of the Year":
Stratford Caldecott's The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God (Alban Books, 9.95) is an unusual and distinctive book. It considers the sacraments not piecemeal, but in terms of numerical patters (days of creation, miracles in John's Gospel, the sephiroth of Jewish mysticism) drawn from scripture and the Christian hermetic tradition (especially the remarkable Valentin Tomberg): a prescient invitation to rediscover Christian mystagogy.

Alban McCoy (The Tablet, 3 June 2006):
More than an introduction to the seven sacraments, this treatise by the Director of the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture provides deeper instruction in the faith for all who feel the need to enter more fully into the sacramental life of the Church. It is written in the conviction that ongoing catechesis in the mysteries of Christ and the Church is a lacuna in the lives of most Catholics. This is a challenging work, replete with useful and informative footnotes that will help the reader to pursue the questions raised. Above all, it is a perfect example of theology leading to prayer.

Scott Hahn:
History presents only a handful of books that disclose the Christian mysteries with the requisite piety and fear of the Lord and yet capture the minds and hearts of readers with such boldness and brilliant clarity. Stratford Caldecott goes bravely into the mystical depths of Christian life and takes his readers with him, eyes wide open. There are no shortcuts to the mystical life, but this book is an overwhelming enticement, and that might be half the battle.

Aidan Nichols OP:
This book identifies a pressing need – the need for post-baptismal catechesis, to help Catholic Christians to enter the faith they possess at a new level of depth. It assumes what can never be taken for granted, namely that they are already well-instructed doctrinally and familiar with the Scriptures and the Liturgy of the Church. It proposes that even this is insufficient – judging by the spiritual literature passed down to us from the patristic, medieval and later periods. The capacity to discern relationships between creation, redemption, and the revealed Names (or attributes) of God is dependent, yes, on what we receive from Scripture, sacraments and the wider tradition of the Church. But it is also something that develops mystagogically – in line with our own entry in depth into the mysteries the faith presents to our gaze. Stratford Caldecott has the poetic sensibility and the metaphysical audacity we would expect from a Christian Platonist – for it is in that succession that I see him, a combination of Dionysius the Areopagite in the age of the Fathers and the Oxford Inklings in our own.

Philip Zaleski:
The Seven Sacraments is a magnificent achievement, a brilliant and gripping presentation of Christianity and its sacraments as a spiritual Way, a path to holiness, an entry into life in union with God. Caldecott explores a dazzling array of subjects – the Lord's Prayer, the seven days of Creation, the souls of animals, the Kabbalah's Tree of Life, and much, much more – with the mind of a poet and the heart of a metaphysician. His conclusions are surprising, exciting, and always fascinating; this book is, among other things, great fun to read. In sum, Caldecott has written a work of intense interest to all spiritual seekers, indeed to all who ponder the ultimate meaning of human life.

Francesca Aran Murphy:
Doing for Catholics what Dallas Willard has done for Protestants, Stratford Caldecott has written a really useful book on Christian discipleship. Numbering the sacraments and the virtues is the easiest way of learning them by heart, and Caldecott shows us how. Caldecott's focus on the pattern and form of Christian sacramental life presents the liturgy on a deep imaginative plane. This is a book whose practicality is rivalled only by its profound spirituality.

Bernard Orchard OSB:
This research into the spiritual meaning of Holy Scripture follows the lines of the allegorical interpretations of Clement of Alexandria and others, but also develops the inner coherencies of the Gospels using the mysterious number Seven to link the life-giving actions of the Saviour with his Seven Sacraments – fountains of his Grace.

Francis Phillips in The Catholic Herald, August 2006
It would be a serious mistake to exclaim at this title "Not another book on the sacraments!" for Caldecott's work is both original in its treatment and ambitious in its scope. Only 133 pages, it is a profoundly prayerful meditation on the sacraments from the point of view of Christian gnosis; as such, it throws down a gentle but firm gauntlet to neo-gnostics who believe they are in possession of a secret wisdom superior to orthodoxy. Subtitled "Entering the mysteries of God", the book reminds us that conversion is more truly about inner transformation than rules of behaviour. We are transformed (rather slowly it has to be admitted, for "the process of dying and being reborn is always a struggle") by sacramental grace; and this seven-fold grace can itself be linked to other scriptural patterns of seven. Indeed, Caldecott suggests that there is a "genetic code' in Christianity that derives from the seven-day structure of creation in Genesis.

His inspiration for this book comes largely from the writings of the mystic Adrienne von Speyr, who found a symbolic link between Christ's seven last words on the Cross and the seven sacraments. Caldecott describes his own book as "a rather audacious extension of hers", whereby he also ponders a correspondence between the sacraments and the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer, the seven archetypal miracles in the Gospel of St John and the seven sections of the Mass.

This necessarily brief synopsis might suggest the book teeters on the edge of occult numerology, but this is far from the case. Nor is it a flight into intellectual elitism, like that fictionalised in Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game. It is an eloquent plea for converts – and those outside Christianity – to recognise that "the Christian life is essentially creative" and to discover "the beauty that unites logic with life and truth with goodness." I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone whose faith has settled into a rather arid, rule-bound routine – and to all who haunt the forlorn, benighted occult books on the "spirituality" shelves of their local bookshops.

John-Leonard Berg writes for Catholic World Library:
Seven Sacraments is not an ordinary book considering the subject of Catholic sacramental theology but a meditation on the sacred signs and wonders deep within Christian experience.

The sacraments are not addressed in seven distinct chapters but more as a composite within the larger themes of Christology, Liturgy, Commandments, Covenant, and Creation. Stratford Caldecott is a proven writer and teacher and the current Director of the Chesterton Institute for Faith & culture in Oxford and editor of the journal Second Spring. Caldecott is sensitive both to religious tradition and to the sensibilities of non-Catholic readers encountering the sacraments for the first time.

Seven Sacraments is written in a catechetical style which facilitates group discussion and personal reflection. The text is based on sound scholarship and is accessible to most readers. Each chapter concludes with explanatory notes clarifying issues encountered within the text and a significant bibliography for additional or supplementary reading. Several online sources are also listed with the requisite web addresses.

This title is recommended for all library collections.

Timothy A. Mahoney writes in The Chesterton Review:
This is a book that aims to open the “eye of the heart” of the reader to the deepest of all mysteries, the salvific mystery by which humans are taken into the divine life through the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ. As the book explains, the living center of this mystery in this life is sacramental, i.e., the seven sacraments of the Church. If one has any spiritual life at all, one will be stirred to participate in the transformation that the book describes. This is mystagogy of the highest order.