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Sweet and Blessed Country

The Christian Hope for Heaven

By John Saward

Was Published on 29th September 2005 in hardback, at £12.99 (UK).

OUP, 208pp, hbk
ISBN: 0 19 928009 6,

Paperback expected in April 2008

The subject of Heaven is largely ignored by academic theology today, yet has an undeniable, deep popular resonance. In Sweet and Blessed Country, John Saward discusses the theology of the Heaven based on Enguerrand Quarton’s inspirational painting Coronation of the Virgin.

Saward’s book is an exploration of Heaven, taking Quarton’s painting as a starting point to explore the teachings of the Carthusian monastery where the painting originally hung. He shows how the image expresses in colour and figure what the great monastic theologians – both medieval and modern - expressed in concepts and words.

This book breaks new ground not just in terms of content, but also in style and method. Discussing the often neglected area of eschatology (the doctrine of the last things), it opens new paths for theological research and debate. Though Saward observes all the disciplines of scholarship, he also manages to reach a readership beyond the academy.


Sweet and Blessed Country, while faithfully rooted in the Catholic tradition, offers enlightenment to every Christian who seeks understanding of their hope for Heaven, and encouragement to every human being who yearns for ultimate fulfilment.


The Rev’d Father John Saward is a Fellow of Greyfriars Hall, Oxford, and priest for the Archdiocese of Birmingham. Having been ordained an Anglican priest before his conversion to Catholicism, he received special dispensation from Pope John Paul II, to become one of the few married Catholic priests. He is the author of seven books, and lives with his family in Oxford.

For more information, or to interview John Saward, please contact Kirsty McHugh on 44 (0) 1865 353344, or kirsty.mchugh@oup.com.

Book Review on website owned by Forward in Faith Movement. http://trushare.com/0128JAN06/JA06art.htm

(I want to thank the website owners for permission to reproduce the review below.)

Readers familiar with Fr Saward’s previous writings will know how he goes about his task: he takes as his theme a particular doctrinal topic, states the fundamental framework of dogmatic definition and magisterial declaration, elucidates the matter in hand according to the mind of St Thomas Aquinas, and then clothes it with a more devotional, even mystical apprehension perceived through the commentary of chosen doctors and accompanied by the contemplation of sacred art.

Redeemer in the Womb and Cradle of Redeeming Love unfolded the mystery of the Incarnation in conversation with the piety of the French School inspired by Pierre de Bérulle; Sweet and Blesssed Country, composed as a series of addresses to the Benedictine community at Pluscarden, is more consciously monastic in its orientation and chooses Denys the Carthusian and Blessed Columba Marmion as its guides to the Dantesque landscape of the afterlife. That landscape is explored through reflection on Enguerrand Quarton’s painting of the Coronation of the Virgin, made to a precise specification for the Charterhouse of Villeneuve-les-Avignon in 1453.

Saward presents his case with a characteristic papalist
machismo, relishing the maturation of his subject matter in the locus of fifteenth century Latin theology and devotion, and giving us rather a lot of Leo XIII and Pius XII as a nod to modernity (incidentally, he is happier than he was in Cradle of Redeeming Love with the teaching of John Paul II on the beatific vision enjoyed by the human soul of the incarnate Christ before the Resurrection). But he enjoys with the late Herbert McCabe the talent of expressing scholastic theology in lucid English, and this book is an excellent primer for the authentic Catholic doctrine of the Last Things, and an eloquent rebuke to those who neglect to meditate on them. Although its title suggests that it is exclusively concerned with the Christian hope for heaven, and although this hope and the doctrines of the beatific vision and the resurrection of the dead are explained with great cogency, the book contains substantial expositions of the atonement, purgatory, hell and the continuing maternal mediation of Our Lady.

Occasionally the reader gets the impression that Fr Saward is there with his search-light where St Paul only managed to see through a glass darkly: the two pages on whether the heavenly intercession of Christ is vocal or not left me bemused, and though he is content to state following the schoolmen that the fire of hell is material, he does not confront whether this means it is therefore locatable (and visitable?) within the universe. But these caveats do not detract from the essential quality and distinction of a book which accomplishes a fine articulation of authentic Catholic doctrine, burnishes to good effect the neglected spiritual acumen of both Denys the Carthusian and Blessed Columba, and unconsciously demonstrates the remarkable identity of teaching on the afterlife shared by the unsound Avignonese Pope John XXII and the current Bishop of Durham. The Oxford University Press has published this book in a fine and attractive binding, but the reproduction of Quarton’s painting is too small to illustrate all the points discussed in the text.

Robin Ward is the Vicar of St John’s, Sevenoaks

This version: 7th January 2008

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