arts, books, other reviews
REBELS AND MARTYRS
28 June – 28 Aug
Admission £8, concessions £7
This exhibition looks at the concept of the artist as a rebel and a martyr. Before and during the Renaissance period, artists were seen as valued and skilled craftsmen, working for a patron, normally a religious foundation, the Church or an aristocratic and wealthy family. They were supported and encouraged by their patrons, and produced medals, statues, frescoes, designs for masques, architecture, portraits and religious paintings, more or less on demand.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the increasing prosperity of the middle class changed the way art was bought and sold. Patronage on a large scale declined and was replaced by a different sort of collector who saw and bought from picture exhibitions and galleries. The popular taste of the new bourgeoisie was often at variance with that of some artists, and the image, and indeed the reality, of the rejected, misunderstood and impoverished artist, suffering for his genius, came into being.
In the late eighteenth century, artists struggled for social recognition. Sir Joshua Reynolds, in one of his many self-portraits, paints himself in academic robes, with no sign of the tools of his trade but a bust of Michaelangelo. Vigée le Brun, a successful painter at the court of Marie Antoinette, shows herself as a lively and well-bred young lady, lightly holding a palette and brushes.
As the nineteenth century progressed, artists began to feel more and more out of touch with society, and used their portraits of each other and themselves to express the idea of suffering and misunderstood creativity. These portraits show the sense of alienation and self-consciousness. Fuseli, whose Gothic paintings shocked and titillated London society, gazes large-eyed and sombre from a self-portrait. Caspar Frederich, a deeply religious man, is painted in a starkly bare studio, gazing at his canvas, searching for inspiration. This theme is epitomized in Henry Wallis’ famous painting of the death by suicide of the 17-year-old poet, Thomas Chatterton. It caused such a sensation when it was exhibited that it had to have two policemen standing by. Gifted, neglected, and doomed – Wallis’ painting says it all. Genius, especially in the young, is seen as a gift and an intolerable and ultimately fatal burden.
The figure of the Bohemian artist was, and is, an enduring image. Young men joined together for mutual support. They encouraged each other; they shared ideas; they may have been unappreciated by the general public but they recognized each other’s talent and enjoyed each other’s company. There are some delightful paintings and portraits showing Monet, Deboutin, Cezanne, Courbet, all represented as individualistic, independent, idealistic. They are shown in portraits, in convivial groups, sharing simple food and simple pleasures. Some were indeed true Bohemians; some comfortably off were spared the rigours of penury and artistic struggle. But the image of the artist as Bohemian was and is a powerful and very attractive one.
The artist as prophet and visionary was how some saw themselves. The mental torment of Van Gogh, the self-imposed exile of Gauguin, and the tortured images of Schiele are witness to the view of the artist’s role in society. The self-portraits of Schiele and Kokoschka especially seem to suggest that suffering was almost a proof of artistic integrity and a positive source of creativity.
The pictures and images in this exhibition are varied and illuminating. They show how artists view themselves and, by implication, the rest of us!
A HUNDRED HIGHWAYS
CD, American Recordings
Johnny Cash died in 2003 and this is a CD of the last recordings he made. These dozen songs bear the weight of his final testament and they do not fail him, nor does he fail to do them justice. The ravages of time and circumstance, not least the recent death of his wife June Carter, can be heard in his voice. It was always a rough-hewn and rugged instrument rasping out the truth of things as he saw them; it is here older, more mellow, overlaid with melancholy but still as passionate and as commanding as it ever was.
The Last String Quartets of Beethoven are intensely moving as a summation of a musical imagination and sensibility because they are so spare, so pared of artifice – pure music. It is not too fanciful to suggest something of a similar feeling in this collection which in its yearning, in its apparent simplicity and directness is both life-enhancing and a moving document of a great and consummate artist.
The recording is close and intimate which, although sympathetic to his vocal resources, leaves no room for error and focuses on the words he sings, with an enviable clarity of diction, and their meaning, and his innate response to them. In its simplicity and directness, its musicality and artistry, this recording bears out the adage that ars est celare artem (the art is to conceal art). Here he does it in spades.
The themes he takes up are those which had infused his music and songs throughout his long career. Those who came to Johnny Cash through his recordings, and the films of those recordings, at San Quentin and Folsom prisons, will know something of the visceral quality of his singing and music and will recognize here familiar territory. These songs come with a dash, and a genuine and heart-felt dash, of the Christian religion. It is not worn with the evangelical intensity and clear-eyed certainty which can characterize so much of American religiosity but with a quiet humility and intensity. Listen to what amounts to a personal credo in ‘I came to believe’ and hear how from the depths of despair was wrought his cry for help and how he found and came to believe in a power much higher than him and how, with a child-like faith he ‘gave him a try.’ It is too simple and direct to be mawkish. That he found religion and faith and sings about it simply, directly and straightforwardly makes it all the more powerful and attractive.
In ‘On the evening train’ by Hank Williams he sings, perhaps most directly and personally about the death of his wife. Again it could have been suffused with the crushing embarrassment of sentimentality that can characterize the worst of this genre of music but that is all undercut by its spare simplicity, its raw feeling, its genuine sentiment and we can feel some share in the grief he feels and also the courage of his wife as she faced death. ‘Read my heart’ (Hugh Moffatt) is impossible to hear other than as a love song to his wife: again, touching because direct.
The songs ‘Like the 309,’ which is a kind of memorial to a way of life on the railroad that is passing away and ‘If you could read my mind’ by Gideon Lightfoot, with its rich texture of the chain gang, drug stores, heroes and heartbreaks of the Southern sensibility, we are in familiar Johnny Cash territory, one which he made his own and whose ‘ending [is] just too hard to take,’ a sentiment given a heightened emotion in the guitar solo which follows. Rod McKuen’s ‘Love’s been good to me’ is rather less familiar territory, very much in the mainstream of the popular song but made entirely his own in a quietly subtle and arresting way which makes you hear anew hackneyed words and well-known sentiments and gives you a new appreciation of a work you would not normally give a moment of your time to but you do so because here is an artist speaking from the heart.
Even in an album of consistent quality like this, there are two songs which stand out and which it is impossible to imagine could be bettered. One is the last, the final appropriate farewell, as it were, ‘I’m free from the chain gang now’ written by Lou Herscher and Saul Klein. It speaks of liberation and freedom, respect for human beings even though reduced to a number. It brings him, artistically, full circle. But even beyond that is his version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Further up the road.’ Cash makes Springsteen’s cadences his own. Here is the desert experience where he is adrift, looking for a sign, looking for the light ahead to direct and guide, feeling a fever in the soul which is to be found. ‘One sunny morning we’ll rise I know and I’ll meet you further on up the line.’ It is the language of pilgrimage and redemption, the search for faith and its accomplishment in a modern idiom and demotic range. To have the two great troubadours of middle America, who have articulated the American experience, here combined is a defining experience.
This is a fitting tribute and moving testament to a great artist and despite his struggles and failings, or because of them, to a great man.
WALKING TO EMMAUS
Continuum, 224pp, pbk
0 86012 42 3, £9·99
Christianity is a religion rooted in history. The Incarnation marks God’s intervention in a world of time and space; specific in time, sub Pontio Pilato; specific in place, a manger, an inn, Bethlehem. God through Christ seeks the redemption of mankind through individuals and seeks the sanctification of the world through its particularity. He seeks to effect his love in the world through the actions of men and women caught up in their relationships and encounters. The eminent historian Eamon Duffy, through the good offices of his publisher who serves him well in this attractive book (only one typographical error spotted: ‘put’ instead of ‘out’ at p.158) offers a series of sermons or addresses preached in Oxford and Cambridge where historical insight is brought to bear on the most historically consonant of all religions.
Books of sermons are not as commonplace as they once were, nor as popular. Sermons ought to be heard. The time and place, the acoustic (a cathedral acoustic makes even the blandest of clichés sound positively Aristotelian in its subtlety and penetration), the voice, the inflection, the look, the gesture all influence the reaction to a sermon. It is a performance as well as a text. The gear-change from high-flown rhetoric and the cadences of balanced antitheses to a more brashly demotic phrase or utterance can be surprising and stimulatingly provocative when heard, rather more jarring when read. None of these reservations applies to Professor Duffy’s sermons which read as well as, no doubt, they sounded. They are as much a literary as an auditory experience.
As you might expect, the pages are replete with historical references, insight and judgement. He has the historian’s hallmark of spotting the ironies of history. Not least in a sermon commemorating the benefactors of Cambridge University where he points up the irony (or perhaps scandal) that Lady Margaret Beaufort’s chaplain, John Fisher, who was with her ‘the effective founder of the modern University,’ does not have his name among those read out by the Vice Chancellor: something of a case of let us now praise some famous men. But none of the apparatus of the historian overwhelms what he has to say; rather, the historian’s craft moulds and focuses his reflections.
It is not his field and he does not attempt technical theology (for this, much thanks) but, like a good Catholic, he does offer detailed analysis and comment on the biblical passages which were read at the services where he preached these sermons; and good they are. Often these passages illuminate the incidents described in Scripture much better than I have heard from many a theologian or priest. He wears his learning, like all great scholars, lightly and attractively: ‘all Christian discipleship, all following of Jesus, finds its meaning and its method not in our solitary struggle with ourselves, but in the Church, in the Eucharistic community, the community of those who give thanks.’ Could anything be plainer, simpler or more true?
Several of his sermons include details from his Irish republican and nationalist background and upbringing. He links the Easter Sunday afternoon walks of his boyhood to pay homage to those Irishmen who died in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War with walking into Westminster Abbey, the heart of the English establishment, ‘to walk among the dead and into meaning’ in ‘this house of graves’ on another Easter Sunday afternoon to preach a sermon on the Easter Rising of Christ.
This boyhood commemoration of the Easter Rising of 1916 occurred within the context of a ‘culture [that] was profoundly Christian,’ something that cannot really be claimed today but in a world that seems ‘meaningless, random and violent’ he asserts that there is something true in the Emmaus experience. ‘The Lord who comes to these bewildered disciples on their journey away from hope comes in the same way now, to all of us, as we make our journeys through life. Like the men on the road to Emmaus often we don’t recognize him. But now, as then, we can share together in the life of his body, in the breaking of bread. Sunday by Sunday, he invites us to take a walk into meaning, not to a place of tombs, not to seek the living among the dead, but to hear again his words, to walk with him on his way.’
In two very good sermons, one for Remembrance Sunday and one for Christ the King, he explains how his Irish republican background and youthful formation inform his reaction to honouring the dead and his response to the kingship of Christ. Although resident in England for forty-five years, he is still unused to Remembrance Sunday, ‘this particular bit of English culture and English history.’ Similarly, having lived for that length of time ‘relatively harmlessly’ and being conservative by instinct, he has never entirely abandoned ‘that inherited discomfort with kings and queens.’ But he proves his point by detailing Solomon’s rise to kingship ‘the mechanisms of power at their bleakest,’ notes the irony of the story of guile and murderous intrigue preserved in Handel’s glorious coronation anthem Zadok the Priest, and comments sharply and bleakly ‘that power is never innocent.’
One minor cavil: while it is true enough to say that the Church of England and its Universities stopped praying for the dead in the reign of Edward VI, an important part of the Catholic Revival, notably through the Guild of All Souls, has been a recovery of praying for the faithful departed and, as any parish priest or curate will testify as a result of funeral visits, there is an instinctive and widespread sense among people of its vitality and significance.
It is rare that such a short book can produce so much to stimulate and with which to engage. It is less rare for a hack historian reviewer to acknowledge a master of the craft. The price is absurdly cheap for such riches.
THE BREAKING POINT
Hemingway, Dos Passos
and the Murder of José Robles
Robson Books, 320pp, hbk
1 86105 954 X, £14·99
In the elegant Plaza Mayor in Salamanca there is a frieze of busts of the heroes of Spain, real and fictional. They culminate in a bust of General Franco. It is the only one that is constantly and regularly defaced and requires running repair. Given his dominance of Spanish life for some forty years, there are surprisingly few monuments or references to him, and his mausoleum, blasted out of a mountain-side in the Valley of the Dead, is an arid shrine. The wounds inflicted during the Spanish Civil War run deep and still weep. There are contemporary echoes of the conflict in the resurgence of the divisions between the Catholic Church and the policies, especially those relating to family life, of the present socialist government. On his recent visit to Spain, Pope Benedict XVI addressed his concerns, albeit in moderate language.
There has been in recent years several fine reassessments of the Spanish Civil War, notably one by Anthony Beevor, recently published and highly recommended (The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936–1939, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £25), which have stripped away some of the romantic overtones with which the sentimental left overlaid it. The Popular Front, represented by the International Brigade, has lost some of its gloss. The malign influence of Stalin and his fellow-travellers, guilty through their naivety, have been exposed to match the perfidy of Hitler and Mussolini as in this book that details ‘the fraudulent role played by the Front in Stalin’s foreign policy.’
In this splendid book, Stephen Koch writes about the tripartite literary friendship between the Americans Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and the Spaniard José Robles; all writers and all, in varying degrees of intensity and commitment, sympathetic to the republican cause, and at the heart of the book is the incident of Robles’ death, starkly outlined by the author: ‘for reasons that even now remain totally obscure, and always working in complete secrecy, this squad without a name took José Robles Pazos to some unknown place, where acting without any inquiry or trial or legal proceeding whatsoever, they blew out his brains.’
Robles came from an aristocratic background, enjoyed a radical youth that survived so that he longed for a liberal Spanish republic but foresaw it being stretched to breaking point. The Civil War was the ‘cause he had been waiting for.’ He plunged into the midst of it. On their first meeting on a train in their youth Robles and Dos Passos had become firm friends. Passos was the scion of a wealthy Republican family and became one of the great modernist writers post World War I, mentioned in the same breath as James Joyce.
Hemingway seemed overbearing in life, a huge bear of an ego and personality, deeply unattractive in this portrait, a figure of grotesque mendacity and monstrous egocentricity, and he can occasionally threaten to overpower the book, but fortunately he never quite manages it. That is partly because there is a cast of minor characters skilfully etched and brought to life. Josephine Herbst (Josie) was ‘a hard-left journalist and polemicist. She wrote tough articles for semi-visible leftist publications, and her prose was considerably more sophisticated and well turned than the general run of Stalinist boilerplate.’ Her description is even more acute: ‘From under heavy eyebrows, a chinless, bird-like woman stares, connecting to the camera with huge, hurt, smart, defeated eyes.’ The absence of photographs in the book is a disappointment. It would have been fun to check the accuracy of his description. Pepe Quintinilla was ‘smooth, cruel, all too delighted with his work tracking down traitors, a sadist with a sentimental side.’ And there are more to delight.
The action takes place in the midst of the War which both Hemingway and Dos Passos sought to cover. Dos Passos was determined to find out how and why his friend Robles had been killed but was faced with a concerted campaign of lies and obfuscation; Stalinist officialdom at its most impregnable and tawdry. Hints from the Comintern that Robles was a ‘fascist spy’ were absurd and it is clear enough that Robles fell victim to a purge of political enemies in Spain as thoroughly and comprehensively as they had been liquidated in the Soviet Union.
Hemingway, gulled and manipulated by the Stalinist propaganda machine, surrounded by Comintern stooges and sinister apparatchiks, exhibited a ‘raw and bitter’ hostility to Dos Passos’ quest. He was egged on by his then mistress, later his wife, the gruesome Martha Gellhorn. Their illicit relationship began in enchantment. Hemingway was in thrall to a woman ‘radiant with self-possession and her own excellence.’ Their marriage ended in such bitterness and recrimination that Gellhorn used the name of Hemingway as a profanity.
Judged against such appalling specimens of humanity, Dos Passos is a positive hero. Hemingway and Dos Passos parted ideological company. Hemingway naively embraced the current ideologies at the very moment that Dos Passos, even more radical than Hemingway, was urgently questioning them. The book is a requiem for something like the death of John Dos Passos’ literary imagination and genius which afflicted him in his quest for Robles. The bullet which killed one snuffed out the literary spark of the other. He was a victim of Stalin’s cultural revolution and the dawn of ‘socialist realism’ which undermined the rock of modernism to which his literary genius was allied. At least he was not liquidated, as were those who offended Stalin’s artistic sensibilities and prejudices in the Soviet Union itself.
Stephen Koch employs an abundance of forensic skill in untangling a skein of duplicity and mis-remembered events to provide a clear narrative amidst the maelstrom of a war zone and an even more intricate set of personal animosities and amours. He is marvellously scathing, as when he says of Dos Passos that ‘the great political and social ideas of his youth were turning to squalor before his eyes.’
Despite its themes of betrayal and deceit, war and totalitarian corruption, or perhaps because of them, this is a stirring book. Written with gusto, peppered with high-wire rhetorical flourishes, phrases to take the breath away, marvellously rich layers of epigrammatic prose, a masterly control of the fluid relationships between politics, novels, psychology, cultural responses, the literary milieu, alert to every nuance, at times lusty and then delicate, always vivid, this is wonderfully satisfying in its scope and accomplishment.
IN THIS SIGN CONQUER
A history of the Society of
the Holy Cross 1855–2005
Edited by William Davage ssc
Continuum, 232pp, pbk
0 8264 9186 3, [£12·99]
This splendid book of essays is a must for all members of the Society, those who have heard about it, possibly in a garbled or biased version, parishioners whose priest is a member of the Society and all who are interested in the tortured history of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England.
There is a foreword and an afterword from David Houlding, International Master of the Society, and the exceedingly good lecture given by Bishop Geoffrey Rowell last year at the great gathering of the Society in London that culminated in the wondrous mass in the Albert Hall,Stand up for Jesus.
The individual essays are written by young priests of the Society and use hitherto somewhat buried archives and so we can read of the inspirational beginning in Wapping, the terrible conflicts not only with Protestant thugs but also with the bishops, the great rows about not only teaching sacramental confession but having the temerity to seek to teach priests how to be confessors, along with some rather less important, but almost equally wrath provoking, liturgical practices. The zeal of the early members even caused the redoubtable Dr Pusey to raise an eyebrow, not so much about what was proposed but the way in which these young men were going about it. They were all, save one, under 40.
Kenneth Macnab is particularly good on this period of litigation and punishment and even prison, but once things become more peaceful then the Society quietens down and it is, for me, at least, dangerously significant that in both the world wars of this period there is little or no mention of world-changing events but rather a concentration on matters narrowly ecclesiastical coupled with a moan on how few priests attended meetings and Synod.
Things went quietly on; there was the battle over the Church of South India which made the Catholics cross, the first battle about joining with the Methodists which was won, and then the developing threat of the ordination of women to the priesthood. The opposition of the Society to this proposal resulted in the highest membership ever. After the 11 November 1992 vote, the Society was split between those who felt that they had to cross the Tiber and those who felt, equally strongly, that they should stay and continue to minister to the people God had given them. This resulted in a split in the Society; for a time there were some who maintained their membership, although in another ecclesial obedience where they found that there really was no room for the Society.
Fr David Houlding was now not only the Master of the diminished SSC but shortly to become the chairman of the Catholic Group on General Synod. He writes of this, the last ten years up to the present time, with his customary detachment and diffidence, but when the books are finally closed on the present difficulties we shall learn more of his self-sacrificing leadership and continual reminders of what the Society is all about. It was never intended to be a crusading organization for anybody other than God; the vision of God was made real to his people not just by visions and burning bushes, but much more practically by the holiness of its priests.Stand up for Jesus was a wonderful celebration but the centrepiece of the Albert Hall stage was a huge SSC cross containing a relic of the true cross, a reminder to the thousands present, a reminder of Fr Lowder and the other founders who believed and showed in their lives the truth of the SSC pax. ‘Pax tibi; per crucem.’
Peace can only come through participation in the Cross; in the Mass we participate in the Cross in the Jesus-given way. SSC crosses are now seen even in the House of Bishops, we have a part to play in the church and in these times of controversy and sadness we need to learn from the history of the Society and never again retire into a marginalized ghetto with bizarre and esoteric concerns. We long that all should experience the real peace that only comes through the cross. Thank you, SSC.
Aidan Mayoss cr
AS PILGRIMS PROGRESS
David Bjork & Stephen March
Aventine Press 240pp, pbk
1 59330 367 X, $15·50
This book, by two Evangelicals, is timely. It explores how and why Catholics and Evangelicals often find themselves at odds. Both authors admitted to a negative attitude to the word ‘Catholic,’ but realized that it was based on ignorance which they decided to replace by knowledge. As a result both learnt an enormous amount to their benefit.As Pilgrims Progress is their attempt to persuade others to follow suit with regard to traditions which seem foreign to them.
They adopt the analogy of pilgrimage. Catholics and Evangelicals agree on oneGoal, call it Heaven, the vision of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, God the Father, or what you will; there is only one Way – God the Son our Lord Jesus Christ; and we all acknowledge the necessity of progressing.
There the differences start coming in. The authors extend their metaphor to examining both the different types ofluggage that pilgrims carry, and how speeds and styles of progressing vary from one pilgrim to another, depending not least on what luggage they are carrying at a given moment. ‘Their baggage is their religious history and traditions’, says Bjork, ‘Inside the luggage we find things that the Holy Spirit has given to help Christians on their journey to the Father.’
On luggage, he instances those with strong, heavy suitcases which will withstand rough treatment but keep their belongings safe; those with suitcases on wheels which are much easier to transport until the ground becomes shingle, sand or cobbles when they have to be carried like any other; those who carry soft-sided cases which may let them down when the going becomes really rough; and those who start out with their belongings stuffed into a plastic bag – who are certainly ‘travelling light’ but may find themselves in difficulties if the weather changes for the worse.
Both authors plead eloquently that pilgrims should not be over-critical of either their fellow-pilgrims’ pace or baggage. A pilgrimage is a means to an end, but also an end in itself. Those who benefit most from it will be those who grasp every opportunity of learning all they can on the way. This they can do in a number of ways.
Talking to one’s fellow-pilgrims about their experiences past and present is certainly one; learning about the terrain and peoples through which we are presently making our way is another. But the real benefit is to be found when we persuade, or are persuaded by, one of our fellow-travellers toopen our suitcase.
For inside every Christian’s suitcase there is bound to be a great variety of objects – some really valuable, some junk, some no more than of sentimental value, and many items of value, the likes of which we or our fellow suitcase-opener didn’t even know existed.
Whether Catholics and Evangelicals take advantage of learning from each other in this way will depend on many circumstances, but principally theirwillingness to do so in a given instance. But whatever opportunities may come our way, the usefulness of this book as a quarry for sermons is beyond question!
IN A MONASTERY LIBRARY
British Library, 48pp, large format pbk
0 7123 4940 5, [£6·95]
‘Arguably the earliest complete Christian Bible,’ Codex Sinaiticus, the fourth century book once kept in St Catherine’s Monastery by Mount Sinai, is an astonishing and skilful achievement.
Made from some 365 animal skins, with four columns of text per page, in clear, formal calligraphy, carefully corrected from comparisons with other manuscripts (including much later, a copy of Origen’s Hexapla), it is a technological triumph, an expression of the new confidence and respect accorded to the Scriptures in the Mediterranean world after Constantine’s edict of toleration.
This introductory study offers plenty of large colour pictures and a brisk, authoritative text, and gives a vivid sense of the value and importance of this great Christian artefact. ‘Discovered’ by the German scholar Tischendorf (this part of the story is soberly related – there is no reference to the monk tearing out pages to light a fire as in some of the wilder tellings), deposited in the Petersburg library, and then, astonishingly, sold by Stalin to the British government in 1933, when he was short of funds; he had wanted £500,000, but was forced to accept only £100,000, half of which was raised by public subscription.
Librarians may not make the most exciting writers. A full page illustration of the red tin box in which it was kept while in Russia is a lovely ‘illustration’ of the different values of different professions. It is good that there are those who love and even reverence great books as objects, for as an object it is of immense value – and can be seen any day for free, next door to the new St Pancras station.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
SCM, 144pp, pbk
0 334 04024 8, [£12·99]
Four brief essays, with notes and bibliography answering the question ‘What have we learned 50 years on?’ The fact that it is published only two years before the sixtieth anniversary says something about DSS scholarship. It has all been so painfully slow and convoluted. For all their huge importance, they seem less part of biblical studies than ever. It is a strange world that this closed world of warring academics have never managed fully to share with laymen. One chapter that seeks to give a contemporary relevance ‘What have we learned about women?’ only underlines how foreign to us is Qumran study. This, however, is a brisk and readable introduction to where such study stands at present.
WHEN I MEET GOD
Book Guild, 216pp, hbk, 1 85776 971 6
Available from Temple House, 25 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2LU
Clergy wives are too often taken for granted; too long treated as unpaid curates; too many expectations are made; too much resentment can be generated when they are unfulfilled. Ann Bell was for thirty-three years the wife of an incumbent of a suburban parish, and in this book she distils her experiences of the Church over that extended period as a wife and mother and speaks about the pressures of a changing moral climate and a Church fallen victim to a world of secular values.
She wrote the essays in the early Nineties when these trends were becoming clear and expresses her anxieties that the inherited values of many were being ignored and unheard during this revolution in our way of life. In a world of cultural and moral flux, she speaks of the value and sanctity of marriage, the value and sanctity of unborn life, the responsibility of parents for the moral standards of home and family and the need for the authority of Scripture and the essential elements of Christian belief to be defended and articulated by a Church supine in the face of secular assault.
She sees a particular need and urgency to address the ordinary husband, wife and family struggling against this tide. It is what would have been called ‘the silent majority,’ had not that term been so unfairly disparaged, mocked and scorned. She does not pretend to be an academic, nor other than a Christian who believes and seeks to learn and to communicate what she has learned of the faith and of the God that she seeks to serve.
She gives, no doubt accurately, a sometimes painful exposition of the pressures laid upon her family as upon others that seek to live their life following the precepts of Christ in an inimical social climate. She does not fear to point out the inadequacy of the Christian response to the challenges of the time and is critical of much contemporary teaching material and what she sees as the aggressively agnostic approach of much of the teaching profession. Hers is a voice rooted in the ordinary realities of life as it is lived and she articulates an experience that ought to give us all pause to assess our own response to the pressures and the climate of the days in which we live.
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