BOOK REVIEWS

Bishop Holloway wields the knife once more

LOOKING IN THE DISTANCE

Richard Holloway

Canongate, 240pp, hbk

1 84195 535 3, £12.99

[Publication date: 19th August.]

No doubt about it, the old rogue can write! Limpid sentences, apt quotations, poetic phrases, telling images; this is fine spiritual writing. A lifetime’s religious experience and practice has enriched the proclamation of an atheist creed in a way that no atheist could ever manage. There is a power in his words that has come from many hours of prayer. Is the result worth it?

The former Bishop of Edinburgh, co-founder of Affirming Catholicism and Primus of the Scottish Episcopalians, knows of what he speaks. His criticisms of Christianity which pepper the text are sharp and incisive, but nevertheless a little old-fashioned, for the liberal church he worked so hard to bring in no longer possesses the authoritarian strength to justify his argument. Metaphorically, facing down violent young men is impressive, facing down little old ladies doesn’t carry the same macho kudos. As for the traditionalists, he reserves an acid dismissal:

Incidentally, one of the advantages of still having these conservative forms of religion around is so that we can point to them as living exhibits in history’s museum of ancient cultures. If your glorious eighteen-year-old daughter, who refuses to be patronised by any mere male of the species, really wants to know ‘what it was like in the olden days, Mummy’, you don’t have to invest in time travel to show her the dismal truth; there are plenty of old religions around that will do the job just as well.

Not surprisingly, for those who have read his earlier Godless Morality, his discussion of moral issues is the sharpest part of his argument. In the end, he never quite gives them the weight they deserve, because he cannot, as one who has turned his back on the Church’s teaching about sin, take sin seriously. In a world of essentially good people, the moral issues are relatively simple and incisive, but that is not (I humbly submit) how the world truly is. The ex-bishop has a vivid sense of men’s badness, and much of it he can lay at the feet of his erstwhile co-religionists, but the corrupting nature of sin escapes him.

Much of the book is more reflective and impressionistic, and it ends with a Housmanesque elegy to mortality and personal extinction. Does it teach us much? Consider this question: could he have written as poetic and compelling a book in the cause of orthodoxy? I think the answer is no. Why? Because there is an essential lack of symmetry. A writer never needs the same logic and rigour when destroying as when building up, for he relies upon the strengths of what he is destroying; like a parasite, he uses what he seeks to destroy.

For example, Holloway appeals to science, or more generally an understanding of science, to rubbish religious fundamentalism. Not a difficult task. And yet his argument in favour of passionless science is so loaded with moral and emotional language as to be close to meaningless. At one point, he is seeking corroboration in nature for Nietzsche’s condemnation of compassion, ‘It is the raw unconscious honesty of the lion who trails the herd of antelope and picks off the wounded straggler with beautiful ferocity. It is possible to admire the fierce symmetry of the balance between species in nature and to understand why, for example, the orphaned baby elephant has to be ignored by the rest of the herd and left to die.’ (I have italicised only the most blatant value words.) It sounds good, but it is complete and utter nonsense: it is the sort of writing we were told off about at school, an example of the aptly named ‘pathetic fallacy’.

This is a beguiling book, and curiously tempting. I had a young couple inquiring about marriage the other day; brought up in a good Christian home, taught at a Christian school, fed and nurtured by Christian values; now both in good jobs, both with their own homes, with mortgages progressing nicely. They had received all they ever wanted from the Church, there was nothing else they needed, they had simply abandoned it, except for this rite of passage. How could I condemn them for missing the point, when some days, frustrated by parish and diocese, I would happily do the same (if I could keep the house).

How can I condemn them, when here is a church leader exhorting us to do exactly that? Here is man who has used the church for his own benefit, enjoyed a good career and presumably now receives a comfortable episcopal pension, who has simply jumped ship, with not an ounce of shame. He offers the most charming, intelligent and entertaining justification of betrayal, and it is beguiling. The war, he seems to suggest, has been lost; he has simply moved to the winning side. When it is as easy as this, why don’t we all follow suit (once we have collected the pension, of course).

 

Nicholas Turner is a member of the inferior clergy.

 

THE ORGANIC DEVELOPMENT OF THE LITURGY

Dom Alcuin Reid osb

St Michael’s Abbey Press, 330pp, xxxxx

0 907077 43 9, [xxxxxxxx]

In the earliest days of New Directions our books reviews editor was one Andrew Burnham (now of course Bishop of Ebbsfleet). He was not infrequently teased about his apparent obsession with reviewing books on the liturgy and, I have to confess, not least by me. It was with some amusement then that our present reviews editor handed me the above volume as my monthly penance. As it turns out I am delighted to report that it is not a penance at all. This study is at once a fascinating overview and edifying historical tour of its subject. From the earliest liturgical developments through to the Mediator Dei of Pius XII, Dom Alcuin introduces the reader to the thoughts, themes and players in the great developments of Catholic worship. If you want to understand the significance of the Carolingian reforms or the errors of the Gallicanism, this is a good place to start. If you don’t, that’s probably because you don’t know that such ignorance is why the Church is having to fight the old battles all over again.

Criticism is measured and even-handed. Conservative readers, for example, will be shocked to confront the fact that the great St Pius X did make mistakes! Modernizers, in their turn, can look back at the twentieth-century liturgical movement and chart where so much of it went wrong. Romano Guardini’s brilliant Spirit of the Liturgy (a book that every ordinand should read and every priest should regularly revisit) was the manifesto of a generation and indeed of much of the twentieth-century liturgical movement. Why did the westward facing participatory masses that so enlivened his pre-war youth community so dismally fail, in most places, to translate into the post-Vatican II parish mass?

There is little doubt that the Benedictines of St Michael’s Abbey have a more conservative outlook, but this book is absolutely fair. In reading it one is put in touch with the very best intentions of all who have participated in the development of the liturgy. To Anglicans, who have grown used to liturgy being used as a weapon in doctrinal and gender wars, such a creative approach is refreshing. To Eastern Orthodox, of course, any discussion of liturgical development is simply further evidence of Western perversity.

From Aquinas to Newman, from the Council of Trent to the eve of Vatican II, this book gives a concise and fascinating account of the principal vocation of man – to glorify God. If its implied assessment of the vehicles of the last forty years is critical, it is because the author understands that radical discontinuity is often doctrinally destructive and pastorally unhelpful.

This book is an eloquent and scholarly plea for a review of where we have got to, not just in the light of ecclesiastical politics of the late twentieth century, but in the long view of the history of the people of God. If you want to understand the debate, this is a good place to start. Make Andrew Burnham happy: read this book! (And read another liturgy review below.)

 

Robbie Low celebrates the liturgy in Cornwall.

 

WHITE GOLD

Giles Milton

Hodder & Stoughton, 330pp, hbk

0 340 79469 0, £18.99

It begins in ‘the terrible summer of 1625’ when North African raiders devastated the southern coasts of England, for a short while raising the standard of Islam over English territory (should that be counted as an invasion?), and returning with a thousand men, women and children to be sold into slavery. It ends as late as 1816, when the Royal Navy pounded the port of Algiers into submission and imposed the cessation of Christian slavery in the Maghreb, an action inspired by Sir Sidney Smith and his ‘Society of Knights Liberators of the White Slaves of Africa’.

The bulk of the book keeps a narrower compass, following the fate of English slaves who were forced to build the palaces of Meknes for the Moroccan tyrant, Moulay Ismail, in the early eighteenth century. Outdoing Versailles in size and splendour, they were built entirely by Christian slaves, by a ruler who gloried in his absolute power. The kings of England, for example, he mocked as pitiful wimps for permitting a parliament to circumscribe their authority.

The central character is Thomas Pellow. Giles uses his autobiography published in 1740 as the core text, around which he builds the wider picture of suffering. Captured as a boy, Pellow showed great courage and ingenuity, and survived to serve twenty-three years, even gaining a wife and daughter, before finally escaping to Gibraltar and Europe.

There were at that time three classes of slaves. At the bottom, the Christians were the manual workers, working sixteen hours a day and treated with unspeakable brutality; above them the black overseers from Senegal and Guinea, a slave army to keep the whites in order; above them, the renegades (of whom Pellow was one), those who willingly or under torture accepted Islam, and so were given greater responsibilities and privileges, though not their freedom. It was the imported skills of these renegades, many of whom were captured soldiers, that helped maintain the power of the sultan. It was these renegades who controlled his munitions factories, and imported the latest Christian technologies in the fight against the Christian north.

It is a fascinating if at times horrible story, well told and full of tantalizing details. Did you know, for example, that there was an official Church of England rite, written in 1637, for the penitential restoration to the sacraments of a returning renegade? The powerlessness of European governments to prevent this slavery for nearly four centuries is astonishing. Embassy after embassy arrived on the Moroccan shores, with gold from government taxation and private subscriptions to ransom the enslaved victims; time and again they left with no money and no freed slaves. Only in the nineteenth century, when Britain began to end its own slave trade from Africa to America were they able to rein in the North African Muslims.

Is this why the story is so poorly known? Because somehow it does not accord with later images of European colonial might, to acknowledge that over a million Christian souls became victims of Islamic power? To me, the most impressive fact about those victims, gleaned from these pages, is how few of them became renegades, how few renounced their Christian faith even under the most horrendous privation and torture; and yet these were not missionaries, but ordinary sailors, ordinary villagers living in the West Country, captured and sold to the ruler of a world superpower. NA

From White Gold:

These Protestant captives always looked with envy upon their Catholic counterparts. Moulay Ismail permitted his Catholic slaves a certain freedom of worship and occasionally allowed the padres in the friary to celebrate religious festivals. The most colourful of these was the feast of Corpus Christi, when the padres would bribe the slave guards to allow all the Catholic slaves to participate. In the spring of 1719, Father Francisco Silvestre was one of those who helped organise the festival. ‘On this day,’ he wrote, ‘the walls of the patio of the slave pens, where the procession begins, are decorated with green stalks.’ Arches were bedecked with herbs and flowers, and all the slaves were given candles. ‘A cleric leads and all walk, chanting hymns appropriate to the day.’

 

THE MIRROR OF THE BLESSED LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST

Nicholas Love, edited by Michael Sargent

University of Exeter, 328pp, pbk

0 85989 741 9, [£17.99]

This was an important, widely-read text from the pre-Reformation age that has been almost completely forgotten. The Wycliffe translation of the Bible in the late fourteenth century marked a proto-Protestant revolution, for it not only made available to the laity the full text of the Scriptures but also questioned many official doctrines concerning the sacraments, the nature of holy orders and the role of the saints. Despite its suppression, it enjoyed great success, and so demanded an official reply. The proto-Counter Reformation response is best seen in this rich work from the early fifteenth century.

More than a simple retelling of the gospel story, it is a series of meditations that, save for a few overt passages of polemic against Lollardism, seeks to maintain the traditional devotions and practices by subtly, even surreptitiously, weaving them into the narrative. It is careful, for example, to admit that the sad discussion among the disciples and the women on Holy Saturday, and how Our Lady soothes Peter racked with remorse, are nowhere found in the Bible, yet may, just like Jesus’ resurrection appearance to his dear mother, be supposed to have occurred something along these lines.

Written by Nicholas Love, prior of the Carthusian house at Mount Grace in Yorkshire, it is largely a translation of an earlier Franciscan text, with additions and modifications for the post-Wycliffe English context. This edition is what it calls ‘a reading text’ in the fifteenth-century spelling. There is a glossary at the end (not as complete as I would have liked), and it does get easier to read as one gets used to it, but it is still difficult for the ordinary reader. There is to be a full critical edition to follow. I do hope it is sufficiently well received for there to be a third version in modern and standardized spelling. It worked well with the British Library’s edition of Wycliffe’s New Testament. The same could be done for its contemporary counterblast.

With the seal of approval from Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, this was the nearest thing to an official English version of the gospels for the laity. For all its imposed orthodoxy, and its adherence to an official church line, it has great charm and imagination. It is a most readable text, and Professor Sargent has given us back something of real worth.

From The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ. Mary and Joseph discover that the boy Jesus is not with them on their journey back from Jerusalem. This is a modernized spelling version, not as found in the book:

Our Lady, seeing Joseph without the child that she supposed had gone with him, asked of him where was the child? And he said that he wist never, for he wend, as he said, that she had the lad with her. And therewith she burst out weeping, and with great sorrow said, ‘Alas, where is my dear child? For now I see I have not well kept him.’ And anon she began to go about in that eventide, as she might, honestly from house to house asking, ‘See ye ought of my son? See ye ought of my son?’ And the silly old man Joseph followed her always weeping …

Then Our Lady, as it is said, sorry for she might not find her son, that night closed her in her chamber, and took her to prayer, as to the best remedy in that case, saying in this manner, ‘Almighty God, Father of heaven, full of mercy and pity, it liked you and was your will to give me your own dear son, but lo now, Father, I have lost him, and I wot not where he is, but ye that knoweth all thing, telleth me and sheweth me where my sweet son is, and give him to me again. God Father, taketh heed and beholdeth the sorrow of my heart, and not my great negligence, for I knowledge well that I have offended in this case.’ … In this manner and by such words as we may devoutly suppose, all that night the mother cared and prayed for her dear son.

 

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR PARISH CHURCHES?

Trevor Cooper

Ecclesiological Society, 72pp, pbk

0 946823 16 2, £6.50

One of my many less endearing traits, maintains my good wife, is the habit of reading newspapers, magazines and sometimes even softback books from the final page backwards. She concedes there may be acceptable reasons in the case of newspapers for the need to read first the sports results (the belief that I could still play football as well as today’s heroes has never deserted me) or the urgency to see the index of advertisers (the desire to window shop by proxy is less threatening to the wallet than the real thing). But in the case of a book? Could it be, she ponders, an attempt on some speed-reading record? Read the very end and make an inspired guess at the contents?

Whatever, just as soon as I saw the front cover, I was irresistibly drawn to seek the answer at the book’s end. But there was no answer. Between pages 70 and 16 – remember, I was working backwards – there are no fewer than 66 tables, graphs and maps, offering a huge volume of statistical information accompanied by much patient explanation. So, it was back (or forward if you will) to the front cover in search of inspiration. Of course, there it was. By changing emphasis, the title’s question begs at least seven quite different responses. Mine, mostly questions themselves, ranged from ‘Fairly well, but could do better!’ to ‘Does this mean property or people?’ At last, it dawned on me. Each table, graph and map had a relevance to my own parish, with its three ancient, rural churches (properties) dependent for their keep upon the hard work and, often, sacrificial financial support of small but committed congregations. My second, careful, reading – this time in the traditional fashion – brought home to me just how much it is possible to identify with this feast of factual if sometimes alarming information, supplemented by a plentiful supply of anonymous contributions in highlighted boxes.

That Trevor Cooper has managed to collate so much detail, write extensive support material, include two speeches, acknowledge sources, modestly point out statistical weaknesses and pack it all into 72 pages is, to me, truly amazing. This is a booklet which should prove more than just a little stimulating in any parish. If you are tempted to take a short-cut to some of the highlights first, try p58 to concentrate the mind, or p53 for fundraising and support, or p28 for the merits of prevention versus cure.

For me, the best bit was finding confirmation of the importance of our own rector’s strongly held opinion that, just as income is divided into ‘restricted’ and ‘unrestricted’, so expenditure is either ‘attractive’ (keeping in presentable condition a mediaeval church and churchyard) or ‘unattractive’ (paying for the clergy or services) to the wider communities of our five villages. Recognition of this fact is transforming attitudes towards fundraising and the parish mission. In the language of the newspaper share tipster, which I usually reach rather too late in the day to be of any real value, this is a strong buy at £6.50, post-free.

 

Keith Wright is on the PCC of a FiF parish.

 

ST THOMAS BECKET

Michael Green

Gracewing, 84pp, pbk

0 85244 590 3, [£6.99]

Any popular presentation of the lives of the saints is to be welcomed. All the same, I fear Mr Green is trying too hard. He says at the beginning, ‘His sanctity cannot be called into question.’ The whole point is that it can. The questions posed by historians as to Becket’s motifs, his loyalties, his desire to triumph over his opponents, these are not necessarily vicious, unthinking attacks by bigoted anti-Catholics; and should not be treated as though they were.

Thomas More and Thomas Becket (formerly ‘Thomas à Becket’) are the two most political of English saints and both were Chancellor of England, and both were men who knew how to wield power – neither of them were gloriously incompetent legal cronies floundering out of their depth, as recent history has offered us. For some reason (the main one probably being Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons) More has now taken on the persona of kindly family man, unfairly put upon by a stupid king, and courageously going to his death. Green seems to be wanting to write up a similar treatment for Becket.

There are questions to be asked, for Becket was an astute politician who left an important legacy. His championing of the rights of the Church against those of the secular government was, after his death, an undoubted triumph. The manner of his martyrdom by King Henry II was a victory for the Church. Was it more than the Church deserved? Did it help to create the political resentment against the Church, and therefore the Papacy, that some centuries later led to Chancellor Thomas More losing his head, as he found himself facing a king rather more determined and capable of taking the fight to the Pope? AS

 

PRACTICAL THEOLOGY IN VERSE

The Bishop of Tracheia

Athena Press, 188pp, pbk

1 84401 221 2, £4.99

We do not review poetry, not because we do not like it, but because we find it impossible to do so – it is not open to critical judgement. But verse may be possible. This collection is an attempt to present theological truths in formal (that is to say, properly structured) verse, and not so-called free form. The author is a Suffolk lad who became a Russian Orthodox bishop and now resides in France. It is an interesting idea, and deserves attention. A sample may be unfair, but so would none at all; for which, see the box. NT

From Practical Theology in Verse. This is the first verse of a longer poem:

Our God is love, it was by love that He did all create / No human word nor concept can in any way translate / The compassion and the tenderness that He bestowed on all / When as God Incarnate, He came down to reinstall / In Paradise His creature that the serpent had deceived, / The Lord, who by the Spirit and the Virgin was conceived.

 

ATHANASIUS

Khaled Anatolios

Routledge, 290pp, pbk

0 415 20203 5, [£16.99]

As an undergraduate working in an Oxford college library, I was working my way through a nineteenth-century edition of Athanasius’ Orations Against the Arians that once belonged to a well-known Anglo-Catholic divine. I had to go and find a knife from my room to cope with the uncut pages; in 120 years no-one had actually read what this giant of the Church Fathers had written beyond a certain point. I don’t suppose I managed to get the end either, even if I managed to get further than others.

Reading the Fathers is not easy. It is serious and demanding study. Hence its understandable if regrettable neglect in the modern Church. Modern editions are crucial if clergy and theologians are ever to rediscover the tradition. With selections from the Orations, De Decretis, and some letters, freshly translated, we have material here to read what Athanasius himself taught about christology and the nature of the Trinity. An extensive introduction, full references, and the key Greek terms noted, this is much, much better than the text I struggled through all those years ago. AS

 

IN A STRANGE LAND

Malcolm Goldsmith

4M, 20 Dover Street, Southwell NG25 0EZ, 239pp, pbk

0 9530494 6 9, [£16.95 by post]

As an ex-psychiatric nurse and having had first hand experience of dementia within the family, I welcome Malcolm Goldsmith’s handbook sub-titled ‘People with dementia and the local church’. Any book or advice which helps ordinary members of the clergy or congregation to accept people who are ‘different’ is appreciated, but I fear that in some congregations this acceptance may be a long time coming, for we all know congregations who dislike a child running around or making a noise, so how much more difficult to come to terms with an adult who wanders around, gives orders, shouts at the preacher, is incontinent and may become aggressive when approached to behave.

Dementia takes no account of social class or intellectual ability, it does not discriminate as we are prone to do and it could strike you or your family at any time, no matter how much money one has to pay for private treatment, for the sad thing is that no treatment or cure is yet available.

Fr Goldsmith understands these problems having been a priest for over forty years and latterly a Research Fellow within the Dementia Services Development Centre at Stirling University. He is rightly insistent on the challenge not to see a person with dementia, but a person with dementia, and likewise nursing homes, as opposed to nursing homes, and I guess that a goodly number of us would have put the stress on the other without having really thought about it.

Throughout the book there are chapters that concern us all; to refer to a few: ‘The response of the local church’ subdivided into sections like, ‘What about the faith of the caregivers’, ‘What brought this about?’, ‘Is it a punishment from God?’, ‘The experience of dementia’, ‘Communication and Dementia’, ‘Family Carers’ and so on.

He deals at length with problems associated with worship and the need to keep it recognizable by the wearing of a clerical collar and /or alb and stole at all visits, so the person can recognize the ‘vicar’, and gives some sample services which could be used with those in residential care.

One particular section that struck a cord was when talking with carers, not to talk about loved ones unless very sure about the relationship. Many a loveless marriage in latter years has nearly come to grief with the onset of dementia, with the carer being placed in a role that he/she did not ask for and definitely did not want, but doing it purely out of guilt and duty.

Caring for people with dementia is extremely demanding, especially when the carer is on their own with the person 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, and there is much that the church can do to help the carer, if not the person themselves. Help them not to lose contact with their church, their friends and neighbourhood, be aware that there may be great financial problems and that this perhaps isn’t the best time to ask for a large increase in their giving, appreciate that there may not be time to bake as many cakes for the fête and take them one instead. Be aware too that the carer may be covering up for the person with dementia and therefore may be reluctant to let people know just how bad and difficult things have become.

This book makes one think, and it also encourages one to ask more questions, but it doesn’t help one to deal with personal guilt that one didn’t do more to help before death. A copy of this book would be a welcome addition to a church library and may help more people than expected. PT

 

A POCKET MANUAL OF ANGLO-CATHOLIC DEVOTION

Compiled by Andrew Burnham

Canterbury, 456pp, pbk

1 85311 530 4, £14.99

I liked the original Manual when it came out in 2001, but its size did make it look, at a time when Common Worship was all over the place, as though it were a resource book, a problem aggravated by the intransigence of the CW copyright holders who demanded that all the options be included in the Eucharistic section. For all that it was hugely popular and sold very well indeed.

Believe me, this is better. Smaller, neater, lighter, it looks and feels exactly what it claims to be, a pocket (overcoat rather than smart jacket) manual. It has added the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, introduced in 2002, and omitted some of the more complicating alternatives. There is nothing spiky or sectarian about it; it is rich and eirenic and can be used by anyone who wants deepen their own life of prayer. Use it, pray it, love it. DN

 

THE STATURE OF WAITING

William Vanstone

DLT, 115pp, pbk

0 232 52558 7, £9.95

This calls itself a ‘New Edition’ of a classic work first published some 22 years ago, but there is no indication as to what it is that makes it new. There is no preface by an editor to explain any critical modifications or additions. My concern that I am a victim of publisher’s hype is balanced by the desire to commend what is a remarkable book of intense theological wisdom. To anyone even marginally influenced by the sub-Protestant gospel of good works, even partially obsessed by the need to justify themselves by deeds, or even slightly worried about the weakness of old age, this is a very important piece of orthodox Christian pastoral teaching. The writing is at times demanding, but you ought to read it. AS

PRACTICAL THEOLOGY IN VERSE

The Bishop of Tracheia

Athena Press, 188pp, pbk

1 84401 221 2, £4.99

Divided we fall

We do not review poetry, not because we do not like it, but because we find it impossible to do so – it is not open to critical judgement. But verse may be different. This collection is an attempt to present theological truths in formal verse, that is to say properly structured and not so-called free form. The author is a Suffolk lad who became a Russian Orthodox bishop and now resides in France. It is an interesting idea, and deserves attention.

The collection includes 75 sonnets. These, it seems to me, are more obviously examples of poetry, albeit with serious ideas and themes embedded and elaborated within them, but the form is too short to sustain any argument or development. More interesting are the longer verse descriptions of parts of the Gospel message. The attempt to present theology in the rhythm and constraint of verse is worth sharing; not always successful as a performance, but like worship it is a worthwhile struggle to express the inexpressible. A sample may be unfair, but see the box. NT

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