arts, books, other reviews
THE LOWRY GALLERIES
The Lowry, Greater Manchester
In my Manchester youth, I could count thirty-seven mill chimneys from the vicarage window, and there would be cotton waste blowing around ones feet on the way to the bus or the tram. The tripe shop on the corner did a good trade, and the Town Hall in Oldham was covered in black soot, as were most public | buildings. A recent weekend visit conveyed a different picture: clear air and shops laden with luxury goods -and though the trams were still there, they had been converted into the Metrolink, enabling one to journey through much attractive redevelopment speedily and cheaply.
The Lowry Galleries are a must for the visitor. We travelled by Metrolink from Piccadilly, and made the mistake of getting off a stop too early at Salford Quays. O felix culpa, for the approach to the Lowry from this point involved an energetic walk along the waterside, and the new building hides behind a distant curve on the horizon. It makes a firm statement when it comes into view; substantial, yet not without a grace and individuality. The Lowry entrance is warm and unpretentious, and you mount an escalator for the exhibition of his drawings and paintings.
If the stereotyped view of the north - 'terraced houses, rain and whippets', as described in the guide - is in need of revision, is the typical Lowry (1887-1976) perception a true one? The exhibition throws up a few surprises, for though the emphasis is on the industrial scenes from between the Thirties and Sixties, there is also other work showing his skill as a more conventional artist. A self-portrait when he was a young man has a tenderness that is repeated in portraits of his mother and father, and is far removed from the distancing of human individuality in his industrial pieces. His love of the sea was nurtured by family holidays at Lytham St Annes, and a number of seascapes are beautifully done, with exquisite brushwork Also, his early drawings as a student in Salford show his mastery of the pencil in various sketches, and the seeds of his later work are evident in the early drawing he made of Broughton, viewed from the art college window.
For many, though, the delight will be in seeing the 'typical' Lowry. He owed much as a student to Adolphe Valette, who taught at the Manchester school of art, and who brought over from France an enthusiasm for the Impressionists that exhilarated his students. Valette's impressionist canvases of I Manchester are themselves remarkable, but it has to be said thatLowry, drawing on this vitality, nevertheless made industrial landscapes of his own invention: the Chaplinesque characters and brilliantly manipulated crowds, the factory chimneys and the church spires. The Gallery has in all 350 or so of his works to call upon, and those chosen for exhibition at any one time are supplemented by pieces from private collections. Thus there is every chance that your favourite will be on view.
It is a fact that the local church, and particularly its spire, features in a number of drawings and paintings. Lowry draws what he sees around him, and the church of those times was central in the community - architecturally, socially and spiritually. It often looks grim and bleak like its surroundings, it attracts a fair number of worshippers (see The Procession, where banners float aloft, leaving an inquisitive street below), and the spire complements the mill chimney as both God and Mammon are revered. But there it is - or rather, there it was, for most of the early Victorian Salford churches are no more. One is left wondering how Lowry would portray the present scene. All those comical and crumpled figures traipsing into Tesco?
Manchester Square, London
The Wallace Collection claims to be the largest collection of European paintings in England after the National Gallery. It is certainly one of the least visited. This is a pity, because it provides a tranquil, and increasingly opulent setting for some fine paintings, objets d'art and armour. After a hard morning's shopping in Selfridges, the Wallace is a good place to refresh body and soul. Body especially, now that the courtyard restaurant is the finest museum restaurant in London, and a good restaurant in its own right. The menu can be downloaded and it is advisable to book.
Hertford House, which holds the collection, is undergoing a major refurbishment. The restaurant was part of stage one and beneath the restaurant the reserve collection now serves to show the quality of the main collection.
And it is the main collection which is the focus of the current refurbishment and the (as yet incomplete) re-hang. The decor of the Wallace has always been an important feature. When the government acquired the Earl of Hertford's collection, it wisely decided to keep Hertford House intact. Hertford was very wealthy and the setting which he provided for his wide-ranging artworks might make a Beckham or an Abramovich envious. The recently done-up main rooms are breathtakingly glittery and rich, a wonderful background, if that is not too unassuming a word, for the fine collection of French eighteenth-century paintings, porcelain and furniture. It is now easier to see and appreciate Watteau's fetes champetres and the rococo delights of German boudoir silverware. It is even possible to develop a taste for Boucher, though the nearby walls of Canalettos make you wish Britain's dominance of the world art market had happened during any century other than the eighteenth.
Ironically, alongside the glare of the spruced-up salons, the charms of the smaller, shabbier galleries are now more apparent. Here there is delicate sixteenth-century glasswork, a rare medieval crown for Our Lady, and the fine collection of landscapes and seascapes; above all, Bonnington's charming and romantic works which make his early death one of the great tragedies of British art. And then there's the Laughing Cavalier, the Dance to the Music of Time and... Have lunch and see for yourself.
HERESIES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
Edited by Ben Quash and Michael Ward
SPCK, 148pp, pbk 978 0 281 05843 3, £7-99
During an interview with Touchstone a couple of years ago, Fr Aidan Nichols op spoke of the importance of | Radical Orthodoxy. Beginning in the Cambridge Divinity Faculty some dozen years ago, it was particularly associated with Peter-house, the oldest and smallest of the Cambridge colleges where the doyen of the movement, John Milbank, was then teaching. This collection of essays started life as sermons preached in Peterhouse Chapel and, although they cannot be described as the product of a school, their authors are clearly committed to the Radical Orthodoxy agenda of showing that traditional Christian beliefs are both intellectually exciting and relevant to today's Church.
The heresies discussed in the first half of the book are the familiar ones thrown up by the Christological debates of the first five centuries; those featured in the second half (Marcionism, Pelagianism, Donatism, Gnosticism) will also be well-known to students of early Church history. The two essays that stand apart (both by the only Roman Catholic contributors) are Denys Turner's amusingly mischievous piece on the fourteenth-century 'heresy of the Free Spirit' and Janet Martin Soskice's fascinating discussion of the 'Johannine Comma', the interpolation of a Trinitarian formula into the text of I John 5.5-9 by a medieval scribe (you can read it in the Authorised Version). Turner also draws our attention to a textual issue. Marguerite Porete's The Mirror of Simple Souls, the central Free Spirit text, was rendered into modern English, attributed to 'An anonymous Carthusian monk', and published in 1927 with the imprimatur of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster! The mistake was rectified in 1946.
The purpose of these two essays, which otherwise sit rather oddly with the others, seems to be to illustrate the thesis advanced by Michael Ward in the epilogue that orthodoxy can go OTT It sometimes ends in people (Porete was burned) and texts getting hurt. Ward has a name for this. He calls it 'hyper-orthodoxy', and he contrasts it with 'hypo-orthodoxy, the belief that orthodoxy is inherently dangerous and should therefore be reduced to the lowest possible level' Readers of New Directions will be pleased to hear that Ward will have none of this liberal nonsense. He points out that, with the exception of Donatism (in which the violence was not all on the Catholic side), none of the early Church heretics 'had his blood shed on account of his views' And this general judgement on religious liberalism shows the Chaplain of Peterhouse to be definitely on the side of the angels:
The opposite of extremism is not necessarily balance and tolerance; it might just as well be an alternative extremism. To say that all truth-claims are dangerous is itself a truth-claim, a liberal truth-claim that has handily been exchanged for the conservative one.
Hypo-orthodoxy is evident in two of the essays, those by Nicholas Adams on Pelagianism and by Angela Tilby on Marcionism. Adams' extraordinary claim that 'Pelagianism means wanting to be right about the relationship between sin and grace' (italics original) is one such example. He keeps telling us that the problem with Pelagius' thought is that it is 'tidy', an adjective Tilby too alights on in trying to sum up what she thinks is wrong with Marcionism. It is 'above all, tidy' In fact, her whole essay is a ham-fisted attempt to argue that Marcion was some kind of conservative fundamentalist, whereas of course, as she herself recognizes somewhat ruefully, his view of Scripture, and indeed the Christian religion generally, is closer to that of modern liberals.
Fortunately the other contributors are more hyper- than hypo-orthodox. Michael Ward on Theopaschitism, Michael Thompson on Arianism, Anders Bergquist on Gnosticism and Marcus Plested on Eutychianism are superbly succinct and hard-hitting essays about their respective subjects. Ben Quash's piece on Donatism is good too, but I was irritated by his Protestant rewriting of the issue: 'Do Christian ministers need to be faultless for their ministrations to be effective?' He knows of course that what was at stake between Donatists and Catholics was the validity of the sacraments of the 'traditores' (clergy who had handed over Church property during the Great Persecution of Diocletian) but posing the question in this way allows Quash to get Archbishop Akinola in his sights: 'It is God's job to make the Church pure, not ours.' Well, yes, but this surely does not mean we shouldn't be making an effort ourselves in that direction.
John Sweet deploys a lifetime of scholarship to deal with Docetism; his disquisition on how to avoid heresy is the best in the book. Finally, Anna Williams' analysis of Nestorianism is spot-on, but she seems curiously undecided about the status of the Theotokos. In the same sentence she describes the incarnation as "The union of fallen human nature with the utterly holy divine nature' and 'the blessed marriage of the uncreated with the most cherished of all creatures'
Radical Orthodoxy is certainly a welcome presence on the academic scene, but this book suggests to me that, without going so far as burning people or doctoring Scripture, these scholars should be more decisive in rejecting hypo- and embracing hyper-orthodoxy SPCK are apparently keen to publish a follow-up about modern heresies, so we shall see.
A HEART IN MY HEAD
A Biography of Richard Harries John Peart-Binns
Continuum, 275pp, hbk 978 0826481542, £20
I do not know John Peart-Binns, but I did know Bishop Richard Harries, for nineteen years my bishop. By and large, he was an unfailingly fair and fair-minded liberal. This was particularly and publicly demonstrated at the Lambeth Conference when he insisted that the Kuala Lumpur Statement, which did not express his point of view, was included in the documents and Resolution 1.10 of the conference.
John Peart-Binns has done a service to his readers. He gives a useful summary of Bishop Richard's extensive writings on war, the investment debate, and other matters of ethical concern to Christians.
He also gives helpful insights into the person. Richard Harries was interested in the nature, role and exercise of power. 'He was allured by the possibility of influence in and near the corridors of power and on the wider stage of the House of Lords' His role in the House of Lords fitted him like a glove.
As Dean of Kings College London, Peart-Binns suggests he was able to do what he wanted to do and the same appears to be true of his role as Bishop of Oxford. He was a player on the national stage from his time at Kings onwards.
The book does tend to be a chronicle of events and debates. The early chapters on Bishop Richard's early years are the most interesting in terms of a focus on the development of his person and commitments. The chronicle nature of the book comes out most clearly with the final chapter which ends with a random collection of semi-humorous occurrences. The book has no real conclusion, the story just ends.
But reading John Peart-Binns' biography of Richard Harries, I know more than I want to of the biographer's own predilections on the matters under discussion. His own views on issues intrude too often.
His judgement about the Oxford Diocese being 'probably more (liberal) than any other diocese' is seriously open to challenge. In certain kinds of visible leadership, the judgement might appear to be true. But Richard Harries' fairness is shown in the fact that at the installation of the new bishop recently, the two archdeacons present (the third was announced but not appointed) were evangelical, as was one of the three area bishops, and the other two are clearly people who believe in the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus.
In the grass roots, the evidence-based profile of the diocese reports that it has the largest number of very large churches (with a usual Sunday attendance of over 350 people) in any diocese except London, 11 out of 127 in the country, according to Peter Brierley of Christian Research. Six of them have grown 1% every year for the last ten years and three others are static. The usual Sunday attendance of these 11 churches has increased from 8% of the total diocesan attendance in 1989 to 14.6% in 2005. These churches are mainly of the evangelical tradition. Attendance records for these churches also show that the larger churches are those with substantially (not only proportionately) larger attendance of children under 16. They therefore have a healthier age-profile. A key issue is how the resources they have can be used constructively.
The growth in churches is not only in urban areas among younger people. There is substantial growth in the rural west and the north west of the diocese. Those reporting it link growth with schools work, Alpha/Emmaus and Christianity
Explained courses, the ministry of NSMs and the employment of youth workers (40 full-time youth workers are employed in the diocese), part-time assistants and volunteers. But there is more.
Those who opposed Bishop Richard over his appointment of Jeffrey John are accused of being ecclesiastical barbarians', of 'uncharitable wickedness', of 'warped malignancy', of being 'biblical fundamentalists'. This is particularly unfair because such charges were never part of Richard Harries' debate with those who strongly disagreed with him on this matter. Indeed, a mark of his fairness is the revelation in the book that he initiated discussions as to how alternative episcopal oversight could be arranged for congregations and clergy who would be 'unable and unwilling to accept [Jeffrey] John's ministrations'
This is also unfair to Bishop Harries because he never accused those who opposed him publicly on this matter of having less than an Anglican ecclesiology So why has Mr Peart-Binns let these judgements intrude? Bishop Harries is never quoted as holding these views himself.
The book notes, but does not give adequate weight to, the failure to take into account the proper interest of the Anglican Communion in the consecration of one who would be part of its college of bishops. Not only evangelicals, but also Anglo-Catholics were opposed to Jeffrey John's nomination and they would hardly relish being called ecclesiastical barbarians.
'The media were fed not with crumbs but red meat', opines Peart-Binns. He does not indicate that there was a mutually agreed news blackout suggested by the conservative evangelicals to Bishop Richard between 10 and 20 June while time for reflection took place; it does not indicate that the obsession of some with taking the campaign to install Jeffrey John to the media meant that in fairness the media also gave space for those opposing the appointment.
Those seeking the truth of what happened in the Bishop of Reading affair need to look elsewhere also.
GREAT BRITISH SPEECHES
A Stirring Anthology of Speeches From Every Period of British History Simon Heffer Quercus, 224pp, hbk 978 184724 038 5, £15
The age of the orator is past. Interviews, soundbites, jargon-strewn talks litter the airwaves. Speeches are rarely more than a collection of disconnected, almost random thoughts. But speeches are constructed to be spoken and heard and what looks uninviting and distinctly flat and ordinary on paper can come alive and occasionally seduce you into thinking that you have heard something intelligent and engaging.
Simon Heffer, the most combatively fluent columnist of his generation, has assembled a good representative selection of the best speeches, from John Ball addressing his fellow rebels at the Peasants' Revolt on the concept that all men were created equal, to Mr Blair who is represented here by his speech about the forces of conservatism.
Here lies the problem. On the page Mr Blair's speech reads like a collection of random thoughts. The speech is a jumble of disconnected prose, terse, ungram-matical, cliche-ridden, and yet it sounded rather impressive when it was delivered on 28 September 1999. On the page it compares mighty unfavourably with Gladstone on Ireland, Charles James Fox on the need for religious liberty, Pitt, Sheridan, Carlyle, Peel, Burke and, of course, Churchill.
Churchill provides five speeches, all of which were delivered in a golden period from 1940 to 1946. They are magnificently sonorous, immaculately written, stirring (as the bold subtitle of the book asserts) and moving. They have all the qualities of great prose written in the classical tradition. But they are set pieces, written and delivered as written. Some of the other examples Mr Heffer offers are delivered in the heat of debate, like that of Gladstone on Ireland ('Ireland stands at your bar expectant'), which bear all the hallmarks of the fierce heat of parliamentary debate, when such a thing mattered. There is something magnificent about Gladstone here, on the brink of defeat, yet marshalling a thunderous defence of his policy, responding to the mood of the House, dealing with interventions. You can feel, almost smell, the heat of parliamentary battle. This is true of some of the other speeches delivered in parliament.
Including Henry V's speech to his troops before the battle of Agincourt from Shakespeare's play is pushing it a bit, but the speech of Queen Elizabeth I to inspire her troops before the invasion of the Spanish Armada, and King Charles Is defiance of his judges at his trial are worthy entries. His choice is a judicious and a representative one and he provides brief but appropriate introductions to each extract, setting it in its context, as well as a singularly well argued introduction to the volume.
The main content comes from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the prose is muscular and evidently from people schooled in the classical languages. Despite the fact that Churchill was something of a dunce at school, his speeches belong to that category nonetheless. They are arguments, well worked out, logical, designed to persuade. They are also passionate. One of the most passionate, but cast in the same classical mould as some of its forebears because its author was a classical scholar, was a speech by Enoch Powell on the treatment of suspected Mau Mau terrorists in Kenya, delivered in the House of Commons on 28 July 1959. His infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech, also included here, is less impressive, rather intemperate than impassioned. He and Michael Foot worked together to destroy the proposals for House of Lords reform in 1969 and Mr Heffer includes Foot's magnificent tour de force against the 'seraglio of eunuchs.' Sir Geoffrey Howe's only memorable utterance when he dispatched Mrs Thatcher with forensic and silken skill deserves its place, but Earl Spencer's tendentious eulogy for Diana, Princess of Wales has not worn well.
The accolade, however, goes to Nigel Birch, a Tory MP, not a household name then, and even less so now, who, in a speech of little more than five minutes' duration commenting on the Profumo affair and Harold Macmillan's unsure handling of it, demolished the standing of the Prime Minister. Mr Heffer accurately describes its 'mordant tone,' its 'devastating wit' and the contempt in which he held Macmillan. It is the most insolent piece in the book, the most cavalier, incisive like a scalpel. When he finished, there was blood on the Commons' carpet.
At £15, this is a real bargain for such a well-produced and handsome volume with excellent illustrations.
FAITH WITHIN REASON
Herbert McCabe Edited and introduced by Brian Davies op Foreword by Denys Turner
Continuum, 173pp, pbk 0 8264 9547 8, £14-99
Herbert McCabe died in 2001. He published little during his lifetime, but what he did was much admired (his 1964 The New Creation, a short guide to the sacraments, used to be one of hardest books to obtain from the Oxford Theology Faculty Library). Since his death, some of his surviving papers have been brought together and edited by Brian Davies. Faith Within Reason is the fourth and probably last volume.
In his introduction, Davies writes that McCabe's work is neither philosophy nor theology, but a blend of the two, somewhat in the manner of St Thomas Aquinas, McCabe's great partner in dialogue. Like Aquinas, McCabe used clarity and precision in the proclamation of the Gospel. The last four chapters are sermons and
illustrate those virtues through the wonderfully simple examples which are a feature of McCabe's writing (it is a relief to learn from Denys Turner how much effort those examples required).
They also illustrate McCabe's restricted style and focus. The sermon on the Immaculate Conception is no ferverino (earlier in these essays there is a notably sharp comment about those who retreat to Fatima in the face of intellectual difficulty - occasionally McCabe forgets Aquinas' teaching that not everyone can be a philosopher). But as McCabe said, Dominicans do not pray, they teach. So, the sermon is a fine exegesis of the theology behind the dogma.
Curiously, McCabe does not investigate whether Mary actually was conceived without stain of sin. A similar veil is cast over why sin is offensive when he writes, very affectingly, about forgiveness. McCabe loathes (the word is not too strong) the god who punishes, but he does not deal with why punishment and justice are categories which have been thought appropriate to human behaviour. I am not sure why he skates around these 'awkward bits.' Maybe he does not preach those teachings of the Church which he doubted and which required further work and thought of him. Or maybe he would not preach or teach what is contrary to the teaching of the Church.
All of this might sound a little austere or even slippery, but then read the sermon on the 'Son of God' and all is forgiven. McCabe had written important articles during the 'Myth of God Incarnate' controversy and the clarity of his thought shines through in a sermon which is a model exposition of the Christian faith. As he says, faith is about our relationship with the God who loves us, but that is no excuse for waffle - we need creeds.
Not all the articles in this volume are such an easy read; after all, McCabe chose not to publish them himself, but they are worth having. Apart from chapters on Aquinas which are especially good on making real what Aquinas said about how God causes things and how he knows them, he also examines such favourites as the nature of faith, how rational faith is, and the nature of evil and goodness. It may not be a complete theology, but what there is is important, both in quality and style.
And he is a good hater. Betes noires are trashed -Margaret Thatcher especially - but some are agreed with. So he uses Newman on how Christians argue, even though he doesn't much care for the Cardinal. And that is the measure of the man -his real enemies are ultimately the lazy and the woolly, the shallow and the unloving. To which, 'Amen.
UNITY, HOLY TRADITION AND CONTEMPLATION
Fr Gregory cswg
CSWG Press, 64pp, pbk 978 094810814 3, £7
If Catherine of Siena was said to roar at the church of her day to wake her up, the Superior of the Anglican Community of the Servants of the Will of God gives us a good shout in his recently published booklet. Fr Gregory, physics teacher and then monk for 46 years, gathers together teaching from a long, fruitful ministry that paints an arousing picture of the potential for the Church and for the world. In 64 rich pages, there is a distillation, an urgent summons, a call to see things as God sees them.
'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom'we are reminded, so fear him and nothing less than him, for he is our God. We are to see our lives as one with Christ in his body, awaiting his return, so that Christian life is in the spirit and in anticipation of our glorious end. The Lord wills our transformation and that will be achieved by a new movement of contemplation as Christians, 'renewed in mind,' offer themselves 'as a living sacrifice' [Rom. 12.1-2] with his own perpetual sacrifice present in the Holy Eucharist.
Unity, Holy Tradition and Contemplation is a call for Christians to put first things first, and especially the three aspects in the book's title. Fr Gregory admits his own recent awakening to how the visible disunity of Christ's Church is 'crucifying once again the Son of God' [Heb. 6.6]. In this booklet he gives a picture of Holy Tradition, especially the unity of 'true theology' with prayer and the essential 'synergy', cooperation with and submission to the Holy Spirit. In his call to contemplation, there is Christocen-tricity, along with a looking and pressing forward with the entire universe towards the future for which we were all created in Christ.
As leader of a religious community of men and women, Fr Gregory has more authority than some to speak of the complementarity of the sexes. He does so controversially in terms of the special bond of contemplation Jesus shares with Mary that is a gift to all believers. Applauding the prophetic ministry of Vassula Ryden, the author sees her True Life in God messages as a welcome reminder that the Church is built upon both the apostles and prophets. The call for one date of Easter, one Eucharist and one pursuit of evangelization in these messages is one with the wake-up call of this booklet.
If we believe in 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,' Fr Gregory is saying, there is work to be done, disciplines to be recovered, and prayers to be said so that the Church might be more fully one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Our future mission rests on such a renewal and it will be a costly business. God wants all who attend his Eucharist to be one with him in total self-offering and one with one another in love, truth and spiritual empowerment. This is his promise and the task we must wake up to in Christ.
A HANDBOOK OF SPIRITUAL ECUMENISM
Cardinal Walter Kasper
New City Press, 96pp, pbk 978 15 6548263 0, £3-65
'We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord' runs the old song, 'and we pray that all unity may one day be restored, and they'll know we are Christians by our love.' Now this sentiment receives practical equipment in the form of a new Roman Catholic handbook serving mission as well as the aim of 'making the partial communion existing between Christians grow towards full communion in truth and charity' [Encyclical, Ut unum sint].
Its author, Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is well known in England for his rich and robust contribution on the ecumenical aspect of consecrating women to the episcopate. The handbook derives from the 2004 commemorations of the fortieth anniversary of the Vatican II decree on ecumenism which defined spiritual ecumenism as 'change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians... the soul of the ecumenical movement.'
In just under 100 pages, there are reminders of common Christian heritage and of challenges linked to mission and renewal that the churches face together and can address practically together. Some of these are: biblical illiteracy among church members; documenting recent Christian martyrs; building up prayer in the Holy Spirit for personal renewal and deeper belonging to the Church; serving chaplaincy in hospitals, prisons and refugee camps to bring Christ's healing power to those in need; learning from mixed marriage families; ecumenical youth camps; producing joint programmes on radio, television, the internet and other media and addressing inter-religious dialogue together.
The handbook recognizes with the 1964 ecumenism decree that 'holiness of life is the first healing ointment, given by the Holy Spirit, to be applied on the wounds of disunity' The handbook has a good amount of practical wisdom linked both to church renewal and joint outreach with its basis being the need to overcome polemics, recrimination and ideological polarization to build an effective mission partnership that serves the corporate reunion of Christ's body on earth.
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