arts, books, other reviews
THE MYSTERIES OF THE HOLY ROSARY
St Andrew's Church, Deal
4-19 July 2009 Admission free
A set of twenty paintings never before exhibited in England will be hosted by the parish church of St Andrew in Deal, East Kent as part of the Deal Festival of Music and the Arts. The paintings, by French artist Pierre Joncret, are normally housed at St Omer Cathedral.
Dr Joncret grew up in St Omer (twinned with Deal). As a child and young adult, he was a frequent pilgrim to Lourdes. He qualified as a medical doctor and practised in St Omer. A gifted amateur, he frequently painted on themes of the Rosary. In 2002, when Pope John Paul II instituted the five new Mysteries of Light to add to the fifteen traditional Mysteries, Dr Joncret, by now retired, committed himself to a definitive series of twenty paintings, the fruit of a lifetime of profound prayer and meditation on the Holy Rosary. Pierre Joncret died in 2007.
The striking paintings depict twenty themes of the Holy Rosary and are painted in gouache. The collection is a powerful ensemble piece of modern art, a contemporary interpretation of overtly and uncompromisingly religious themes, as they are meditated upon by the faithful as they recite the Rosary.
Every year the parish of St Andrew makes an annual visit to St Omer. Seeing this stunning exhibition in the cathedral last year, I was determined to bring the work to England. We are immensely grateful to Mme Joncret for permitting the travelling edition of this great work to come to Deal. This is a beautiful fruit of our growing friendship with St Omer and also with the nuns of the Abbey of Notre Dame of Wisque.
The exhibition runs from Saturday 4 July to Sunday 19 July at St Andrews Church, West Street, Deal and is open from 10.00 to 16.00 every day. Details can be found at <www.dealstandrews.org.uk>
Fr Christopher Lindlar
THE HEART OF FAITH
Following Christ in the Church of England
Edited by Andrew Atherstone
Lutterworth Press, 180pp, pbk 978 0 7188 3072 4, £15
Sixteen brief biographies have been gathered to illustrate something of the Anglican Tradition. There is a distinct Evangelical bias. With the possible exception of C.S. Lewis, no Anglo-Catholic makes the cut as a bona fide Anglican. Although these are not biographical essays, they contain enough information to give some context to the intentions of the book which, as the editor says in his introduction, are to say something about how each subject saw his or her relationship with God, their understanding of the Incarnation and Atonement, the role of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the Bible and the mission of the Church, as well as their motivations, what they taught, what vision they had for the people of God, and how they worked out their Christian beliefs in the practicalities of everyday living. It is a tall order to fulfil within the compass of a few pages for each subject. Most of the chapters are ten pages or so in length.
In a miracle of comprehension, Gerald Bray seeks to locate the beginning of a distinctive Anglicanism and sees various 'threads of particularity and continuity' that come together to form something 'we now think of as Anglicanism' which seems to be found in that uneasy nexus of the Elizabethan Settlement. He begins with the greatest of English historians, Bede the Venerable, who did much to set the pattern of the English Church and State. He also deals briefly with John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, to whom we owe the juridical autonomy of the Church, an educated clergy, and the basis for what Dr Bray sees as the classical Anglicanism of modern times.
There are essays on Thomas Cranmer (Roger Beckwith), dealing with his theology as expressed in his liturgy and acknowledging his controversial reputation now resolved in the synthesis in Diarmaid MacCulloch's biography; on Richard Hooker (Nigel Atkinson), clawing back some of the Tractarian appropriation of Hooker, portraying him in 'the mainstream of the magisterial reformation'; and on Richard Sibbs (Mark Dever), who provided an articulate puritan alternative to William Laud.
Robert Boyle (John Coffey), from a convinced Protestant family, leaned towards Arminianism but was always irenic and conciliatory and his science was hugely influential. Susanna Wesley (Martin Well-ings) 'held firmly to the faith once delivered to the saints. Her thoughtful orthodoxy was vitalized by love of God, nurtured by a cheerful, courageous and methodical piety, and expressed in personal; devotion and conscientious discipleship'.
Other essays deal with William Wilberforce (Mark Smith), whose Evangelical zeal propelled his social causes to success; Charles Simeon (Alan Munden), 'this extraordinary man - extraordinary in his appearance, his manner, his zeal, and his success'; and Lord Shaftesbury (John Wolffe), the bete noire of the Anglo-Catholics and their worship of Jupiter and Juno, but whose work for the welfare of others in factories and mines was wholly admirable. J.C. Kyle (David Bebbington) is the subject of a nuanced and elegant essay in which his teaching of holiness is seen in contradistinction from that of the Oxford Movement Fathers.
There are also chapters on Francis Ridley Haver-gal (the editor), whose piety was poured out in hymnody; C.S. Lewis (Michael Ward), whose conversion is looked at closely in Surprised by Joy; John Stott (David Wells), the celebrated Rector of All Souls, Langham Place whose attraction and celebrity has always eluded me and eludes me still, but his influence was enormous and his popularity as teacher and preacher phenomenally successful; and David Watson (Graham Cray), 'the most gifted and effective English evangelist of his generation, much of this effectiveness coming from his vulnerability and openness and his search for reconciliation, whose early death from cancer robbed the Evangelical Movement of its most charismatic figure. There is an epilogue by the Bishop of Rochester on 'The Apostolic teaching and Anglicanism', which is characteristically informed and well argued.
The quality and interest in the essays is variable, and inevitably in a short book of short essays much of the complexities of history is skated over, which lends the book a slightly old-fashioned feel. Nonetheless, it is a useful introduction to a rather different sort of Anglicanism from that with which many readers of this journal will be familiar.
13 THINGS THAT DON'T MAKE SENSE
The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Times
Profile, 240pp, pbk
678 186197817 2 £12.99
Despite the overween ing confidence of so many scientists, whether work ing for drug companies, 1 governments or the press, there are many lacunae in their knowledge and many unexplained anomalies in the experimental data. Not everything has been explained or is about to be explained. There is much that casts doubt on these persons' public confidence.
Brooks is a writer with a solid scientific background. He opens with the problem of dark matter. 'We can only account for 4% of the cosmos' is how he begins his presentation; and it is a fine piece of writing, both clear and exciting. But does he flatter to deceive?
His consideration of the problems of life, sex and death - that is to say, how we explain them and how they came about - is also exhilarating in its concise grasp of the relevant issues. So why on earth does he include, in his mysterious thirteen, such banal pieces of history as whether or not they devised the right experiments for testing the presence of life on Mars in the Viking probe of 1976? And is it really possible that a single three-minute signal received on the Ohio State University radio telescope on 15 August 1977 came from an intelligent source somewhere the other side of the universe?
There is a wonderful lack of proportion. He begins the book on the nature of the cosmos, and it is excellent stuff; he ends the book on the supposition that homeopathy is not, as is generally supposed, complete nonsense, but that there might be something in it. He seems to be serious, and that is the fascination (as well as the frustration) of this book.
It is an easy and entertaining read; you are sure to find something of interest among the collection of anomalies - my own 'fancy-that' favourite was the world's most massive virus, discovered in Bradford by a government quango, the Health Protection Agency (mission statement 'protecting people, preventing harm, preparing for threats'), in 1992, and then largely ignored until French researchers in Marseille realized it might lead to a complete rewriting of the foundations of all we know about living organisms.
No, the real interest is that he gives an insight into the core hubris/myopia in so much of the scientific hegemony of our secular age. By far the most encouraging chapter is his absolute assurance, and accompanying explanation that free will is a mere illusion, 'a neurological sleight of hand'. 'Free will may be the one scientific anomaly that humans would be wise to ignore,' he asserts. It is all nonsense, but such widespread and persistence nonsense (like religion, one wonders) that perhaps it is best not to rock the boat too much.
Believe what you like, my little man, but let us take heart that historically one of the most important selling points of the Christian faith during the past two thousand years has been its good news of freedom. The preaching of sin and salvation is not usually translated into an affirmation of free will, but it is. If others are abandoning our philosophical heartland, I for one will not be sorry - it leaves us free to evangelize.
FRESH EXPRESSIONS IN THE SACRAMENTAL TRADITION
Edited by Steven Croft & Ian Mobsby
Canterbury Press, 176pp, pbk 978 185311 973 6, £16.99
Mission takes time. Like all great achievements it needs time and effort even if it is also the work of God. There are no quick fixes since it is about building communities, and relationships take time to build, not least that with God himself. This insight recurs across the work of eighteen thinkers and pioneers from the Catholic/Affirming Catholic tradition of UK and US Anglicanism.
The book starts magnificently with the Archbishop of Canterbury's December 2008 address at the Coventry Cathedral fresh expressions pilgrimage Eucharist. Rowan Williams sees the Anglo-Catholic view of mission as patient and community-oriented, valuing action - including sacraments - more than words. The book moves on, a shade unevenly, between mission theory and practice - more theory than practice - to end with a Benedictine Abbots warning. Letting God be God rather than what we would like him to be indeed takes time, but it is the key to mission and unlocking the spiritual energy that drives it.
The book represents an awakening among Anglo-Catholics to the challenge of fresh expressions which traces back to the 2004 report on mission-shaped church. As Bishop Steven Croft notes in his chapter, Anglo-Catholics seem to have held back initially, like Gamaliel, to see whether the national initiative much favoured by Evangelicals would go anywhere. They are also concerned about the lack of sacramental vision in the 2004 report. Now a sacramental network exists within fresh expressions and has sponsored this publication.
Alongside short tasters on alternative worship, new monasticism, Contemplative Fire etc. this compendium draws out a basis for forming new ecclesial communities through contextual mission that commends patient endeavour geared to make space for Gods action. Fresh expressions of the church must be more than human constructs. To be so they need to be fully sacramental. As the Archbishop puts it, having priests 'is not a matter of mechanical requirements imposed on a spontaneous human gathering, but a matter of how the human gathering remembers that it isn't just a human gathering. Properly understood, the sacramental life in a congregation is inseparable from the impulse to silence, adoration, willingness to receive - all the things that break us free from the tyranny of hectic activism and trying to achieve.'
The same point is made in the chapter written by Contemplative Fire leaders, namely that the discipline of order and adherence to age-old Christian disciplines can foster spontaneity and freedom. Creativity and playfulness emerge best out of deeply structured situations. Brian McLaren expresses this in his quotation on the cover of the book: 'the road to the future goes through the past'. Both Sue Wallace and Phyllis Tickle pick up on how reading the trials and achievements of the saints intrigues, excites and energises the pioneers of our day.
This is a timely resource as the Arch-bishops'/res/r expressions initiative changes gear and leadership five years on from mission-shaped church. This book should inspire, intrigue and invite fresh energies into a new phase of Christian outreach, that is both contextual and true to the faith of the Church through the ages.
The Revd Dr John Twisleton is Rector of Horsted Keynes in Chichester Diocese
THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD
Arcadia, 498pp, pbk 9781906413040, £11.99
Michael Arditti's novels are invariably elegant considerations on religious faith in its modern context. Contemporary ethical and moral dilemmas, theological and doctrinal problems are explored with a sympathetic liberal eye.
His latest book is the story of the Granville family. The father, Edwin, is a retired Church of England bishop who publicly lost his faith in God while still in office but remained to proclaim that loss. His wife, Marta, is a liberal Jewish academic anthropologist who suffered and survived the concentration camps of the Second World War. Their children are Clement, an artist who paints religious themes and subjects, and Susannah, who works in public relations. Their relationships and their pasts in their complexity and moral ambiguity form the fabric of the book. Clement has never quite come to terms with the death of his twin, Mark, seen as a golden youth of promise. Susannah escapes from an abusive relationship with a convicted murderer and seeks greater definition and boundaries in her life. Edwin declines into confused old age as a result of a brain tumour and Marta struggles with the horrors of her past, the intricacies of the present and how to deal with the loss of her great love through the changes wrought by his physical and mental failure.
Clement has found stability in his relationship with Mike but sees his creative imagination wither in the face of public hostility to one of his public commissions. His religion is a well-articulated liberalism and he argues a case for mercy killing without undervaluing or ignoring its complexity. They are arguments dealt with carefully and truthfully. Susannah finds herself through her involvement with Chassidic Jews and Kabbalah. She falls in love with Zvi within that exclusive fold, which creates tensions within the Gran-ville family, not merely because of the dietary laws but because the strict moral code that she follows is at variance with all the liberal instincts of her parents and brother.
Because the context in which she discovers herself is unfamiliar and seems strange and alienating, the book appears slanted to make her a less sympathetic and more hysterical character. But Michael Arditti treats her, and the moral perspective that she articulates and which brings about the crisis in the book, with sympathy and fairness.
While there are touches of melodrama, the over-arching feel of the book is of a subtle dissection of these individuals and their joys and sorrows, their shifting relationships and their responses to a difficult series of circumstances. Written with psychological insight and a warm humanity, due weight and respect are given to both sides of the debate between a religion of enlightened self-interest and one of greater fundamental absolutes, and several shades in between, as well as several generous nods in the direction of sceptical atheism: the strands are maintained in this beautifully achieved narrative that combines meticulous and convincing detail - some of it horrifying and violent - with shafts of wit and epigrammatic finesse. There are some very funny set-pieces, not least an encounter group weekend. The scenes with the callow PR reps see them skewered mercilessly.
Towards the end of the book (and it would be unfair to reveal the several satisfying twists that we are taken through) there are some scenes that should make us ashamed of aspects of our society but this is a book that, like Clements art, deals with resolution and redemption. We might not agree with every proposition in the book but we would do well to engage with them on a similarly sophisticated level as Michael Arditti.
PISTOLS AT DAWN
Two Hundred Years of Political Rivalry from Fox and Pitt to Blair and Brown
Jonathan Cape, 480pp, hbk
The only two people in this study who fought a duel, pistols at dawn, as the title suggests, were Lord Castlereagh and George Canning. They met on Putney Heath on 21 September 1809. Castlereagh had 'called [Canning] out' for plotting against him in Cabinet and seeking to have him removed. Differences seem to have been more personal than political. They shot at each other with relatively little damage. Canning sustained a flesh wound and Castlereagh had a button shot from his coat.
It is not quite like that nowadays, nor indeed for all the other great and titanic struggles that are outlined so ably by John Campbell in this accessible popular history book. Also relatively few of these conflicts were conducted across the ballot box. Even those that were, Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger, William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, started on the same side of the political fence which may have given their subsequent dislike and disdain added piquancy.
Asquith and David Lloyd George, Aneu-rin Bevan and Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Macmillan and R. A. Butler, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown all represent inter-party conflict, although the split in the Liberal Party made Asquith and Lloyd George conduct their feud across the floor for a while.
It is difficult to identify too many common characteristics in these personalities. Cavalier and Roundhead, perhaps? Could Fox, Canning, Disraeli, Lloyd George, Macmillan, Bevan, Heath and Blair be the Cavaliers? Were all the others Roundheads? Pitt and Asquith were certainly not Puritans when it came to drink. Could it be the classical against the romantic? Asquith was known as the 'last of the Romans' and Lloyd George certainly had a highly developed romantic streak both in politics and in the bedroom. Is it the professional against the gifted amateur?
Some may have given the insouciant appearance of someone who had wandered into political life. 'We authors, Ma'am,' said Disraeli as if he had sauntered from his desk to the dispatch box. Yet he was the most politically astute of men, the most professional schemer: his sustained opposition to Peel proves that.
So, perhaps, these categories are not helpful and we have here simply a collection of people who did not like each other, or fell out after a period of friendship or close working relationship. It would be difficult ever to be able to see Mrs Thatcher and Mr Heath as bosom buddies. And if they had been we would have missed the longest sulk in political history: and what fun it gave us.
In rehearsing the feuds and the divisions, they are all placed within the context of considerable personal and political achievement by all who figure in this book. Great men and women invariably arouse great reactions. The direction and winning of wars, the amelioration of the lot of many people, the building of a welfare system, the development of democratic institutions and freedoms, the rule of Empire and the divesting of that same Empire are themes that underpin the personal animosities that erupt in print and speech throughout the book.
It evokes great events, great politicians, great feuds and they are not cold dishes that take some digesting, they come hot, strong and invigorating. The feuds may be fuelled by personal animosity but they are also focused on great and grave matters.
THE GAY DIVORCEE
Sphere, 282pp, pbk 978 184744 208 6, £11.99
This is a piece of gay chick-lit, puffed by Julian Clary as 'immensely enjoyable', so don't get carried away; but surprisingly it is almost a little comic masterpiece. The 'almost' unfortunately is key, for in a final two-page epilogue the author (for all the sadly obvious PC reasons) undermines and destroys the delicate and sensitive picture he has carefully built up in the earlier unfolding drama.
The basic New Directions approach to civil partnerships, I take it, has been to allow (and in one editorial actively to encourage) gay couples to enter these legal contracts, but to object to them as an institution too close to and subversive of marriage. Burston objects to CPs for the opposite reason, that they are not close enough to marriage, and then wonders whether to encourage his fellow gays to enter such inadequate and insufficiently gay-friendly legal contracts.
The central character is gay, of course, but the twist here is that he was once married, but never got around to getting divorced. By the climax of the novel, his wife-not-wife comes back into his life only to tell him they have a son (who happens to be gay).
The context of the drama is essentially the London gay scene and the world is helpfully set out in the orthodox social hierarchy: top of the heap are young, single, amoral, male gays; bottom of the heap are older, married, heterosexual Christians (uptight fundamentalist bigots, in other words).
The drama and uncertainty is reserved for those somewhere between these extremes of good and evil, in particular those who face the question, can an apparently amoral, single, gay man enter a long-term, faithful, civil partnership? What do you do as age creeps up? Drink, drugs, botox, plastic surgery? Or the semi-Christian virtues of love and caring and faithfulness, the essential characteristics of the quasi-heterosexual world of domesticity, and long-term relationships?
In amongst the biting satire and witty bitching, there develops a steadily increasing sense of human vulnerability that is charmingly portrayed - he is increasingly generous to the dreaded straight women. There is a curious sadness to the satire, and almost a sense of compassion for the ageing clubbers as they face their own emptiness. Don't misunderstand me, twenty-year-old coke-snorting Brazilian waiters are still lords of the universe, but maybe their lifestyle does not sum up all there is to life.
The unfolding reconciliation, the slow acceptance of earlier life and loves, the sense of responsibility for a child (even if grown up), the possibility that even a civil partnership between two people is not the true goal of human commitment, all this gathers momentum. Then there is a final, beautiful meeting and reconciliation, literally wreathed in fog. It is a subtly open-ended conclusion; it works as a piece of fiction in which an elderly Christian heterosexual (such as the reviewer) can share with and learn from someone of very different outlook.
And then he adds the epilogue, in which the hard-line homosexualist agenda is reasserted, the woman is discarded, and the soft-centred gays relegated to second rank. You can see why he does it, but his publisher should have stopped him. Sad mistake.
The Pusey House Choir has just returned from an enjoyable and successful tour in Rome. They combined music-making with sightseeing in the Eternal City. There is, of course, so much to see; ancient Rome, baroque Rome, twentieth-century Rome, ecclesiastical Rome, civic Rome; that it is impossible to be comprehensive, to see everything in a limited period. And there is more than Rome to see.
There is the smallest independent state in the world, Vatican City. Everyone sees it but it needs to be seen. It is the unmissable site. There maybe greater and finer buildings. For my two pence worth, the Basilica of St Maria Maggiore is the outstanding place to see, the Gesu is a close second, St Maria in Trastevere has a special atmosphere, and the Pantheon may well be the most wonderful and striking building in Europe - but then so is Chartres Cathedral and Durham Cathedral. Such comparisons are ludicrous. All those buildings I have
named could be replaced by every reader who will have his or her own favourites shaped by their own sensibilities and aesthetic standards.
Even so, St Pietro in Vaticano, the Basilica of St Peter's remains intrinsic to any visit to Rome. This was my fourth or fifth visit to Rome, although I had not been for nearly fifteen years, and it was fascinating to revisit sites I thought that I knew and remembered well and to find new things to enjoy.
I took with me a scholarly and accessible book, which I read before travelling, St Peter's by Keith Miller [Profile Books, £8.99]. This is emphatically not a guide book (there are plenty of those on the market) although he includes a helpful plan of St Peter's with the significant sculptures, paintings and mosaics marked. There is also a chapter on planning a visit with several useful hints and traps for the unwary tourist to avoid. The modern security systems, metal detectors and dress codes are helpfully mentioned. Another extra lollipop is a thorough list of suggestions for further reading if this book has given you a taste for architectural history or ecclesiastical art.
He tells the story of the background and the building of such 'a titanically ambitious architectural project' with a great deal of verve and confidence. Technical language is used but sparingly and with clear explanations. He writes about how the building works as place of worship, its primary function, after all - a 'worship space' as some would have it now that its consideration has become a sub-stratum of liturgical study. The opening description is of the present Pontiff celebrating the papal liturgy on the Solemnity of SS
Peter and Paul. Beyond that he explores how the building articulates and asserts papal and imperial power, how it relates to the structures of previous buildings on the site and to those buildings that are now adjacent to it, how it fits into the Roman architectural and natural landscape, its cultural and political milieu.
The roll-call of its architects and artists is prodigious: Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini, Canova, and more who are not so prominent in the popular memory. Those names remind us that what we see nowadays is the New St Peter's built on the more ancient foundations of Constantine's church. Even before we go into the Basilica he offers us an absolutely compelling meditation on the Piazza St Pietro. If you have ever wondered why this space is so spectacular, why it seems both impossibly grand and yet intimate and welcoming, you will find explanations and answers here. Keith Miller is very good at saying what it is that successful architecture makes us feel. His acuity is seen on every page and the reading of this book immeasurably enhances a visit. I saw the Basilica anew and it was in large measure because of this book.
We might read the inscription emblazoned on the entablature at the front of St Peter's and simply see the grandiose pomposity of the Pope: Paulus V Burgesius Romanum Pont. Max. But we learn that it goes beyond arrogant self-advertisement: pontifex maximus means high priest or chief priest; it is a political as well as an ecclesial title and encapsulates the claims of the medieval papacy. The family name, Borghese, proclaims that the family is a Roman one, not Florentine nor from the Serene Republic, nor from anywhere else other than Rome. Even in this small detail we see the building in its widest context, historical and environmental.
It is a delicious irony that Peter's church is built not upon Roman rock but on 'sludgy alluvial soil' and, despite its imperfections, has 'a curious sort of perfection. If, as Keith Miller suggests, this New St Peter's that we see as built is a building that is much more unremarkable than the earlier plans for its construction would have achieved, and even if the massive nave is an undistinguished space, nevertheless there remains a vast amount to enjoy and savour: and this book helps us to do just that.
William Davage [Hugh Monsell is away]
Pusey House Choir CD 'Triduum Sacrum
is available from Fr Davage at Pusey House, Oxford OX1 3LZ.
Please send a cheque for £12.50 (includes p&p)
made payable to the 'Friends of Pusey House'.
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