reviews and previews
THE SACRED MADE REAL
Spanish Painting & Sculpture
National Gallery, Sainsbury
21 October 2009-24January 2010
In the years just before the Reformation the carving
of religious statues in alabaster was one of
The Protestant iconoclast still removes crucifixes,
though he is less likely to replace them with the royal arms. He won't justify
his plain cross by reference to anything so
old-fashioned as popish idol worship (he himself possibly worships PowerPoint).
Instead he says the empty cross doesn't frighten the children and it's a symbol
of the resurrection (why then doesn't he fill his churches with statues of the risen Lord?).
In the middle of the churchmanship
spectrum we findthose men and women who have begun to
climb the ladder of preferment. The Divine Wisdom has thought it
fit that the char ism poured out upon the rising cleric is not
wisdom nor the fear of the Lord, but the grace of good taste and a
cultivated manner so that the young thruster may tune
into Classic FM and have his photo taken alongside a conventionally
Finally, at the extreme far end there are the iconodules, the image lovers, the men with an exhaustive
knowledge of all things
It's a brave exhibition for the Gallery to mount. The
show's curator, Xavier Bray, one of the men behind the wonderful Velasquez
exhibition in 2006/7, has been working for ten years to assemble some of the
finest sculptures ever to leave
The sculptures are all of carved wood which has been gessoed and polychromed. Bray
describes them as uncompromising in their hyper- realism. Indeed, to create
their attention-grabbing effects sculptors such as Pedro de Mena
and Gregorio Fernandez added glass eyes and tears as well as ivory teeth to
their work. Fernandez's 'Dead Christ' uses cork bark to simulate Christ's dried
blood and bull's horn for his fingernails. The life-size Decapitated Head of
Saint John the Baptist' looks only marginally less horrific. By contrast de Mena's 'Saint Francis standing in meditation' and Montanes' 'Saint Francis Borgia
meditating upon a skull' are simply realistic and arresting. It would be
tempting to compare them to waxworks, but the delicacy of their craftsmanship
becomes apparent when compared to contemporary wax masks like that of St
Vincent de Paul in the Rue de Sevres.
The sculptures are paired with contemporary Spanish
paintings of similar topics from both the Gallery's own collection and choice
works from elsewhere, notably Zubaran's 'Saint Serapion.' These arrangements illustrate the theory behind
the exhibition, that there was a close relationship between the painters of
painting and the painters of sculpture. This is clearly so with Francisco
Pacheco, the great theorist of seventeenth-century Spanish painting, who
painted the flesh and drapery for the god of wood'Montanes.
He was also father-in-law and teacher of Velasquez. But it's precisely at this
point that the exhibition will need to prove its worth. Velasquez is not a
hyper-realist. His use of paint is much more creative than Pacheco, more the
point of what he is about. The Gallery's lovely 'Immaculate Conception' may be
of a common girl off the streets of
If we want to compare these sculptures with painting
we should perhaps look to the Andachtsbilder, the
devotional works of late Northern Gothic where there is a similar emotionalism
and emphasis on suffering to stimulate devotion. Griinewald's
Isenheim Altarpiece, where Christ is identified with
plague victims, and Holbein's 'Body of the Dead
Christ in the Tomb'both have much in common with
Fernandez's Dead Christ! Indeed, some early sixteenth-century paintings of the
crucifixion are too horrific even for Google, but
they tell us what our sin cost Jesus.
So it should be worthwhile going along to the National
Gallery for this show. There are very fine paintings and some sculptures you
won't see in
And, ifthat fails, you can see where you come on the sliding scale of
iconoclasts and iconodules.
CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS INTO MARVELOUS LIGHT
A History of the Episcopal Diocese of
Wipf and Stock
Publishers, 376, pbk 978 1 60608 163 4, £27.50
Before the Forties Pittsburgh differed
little from other dioceses. Bonner explains its subsequent
divergence in terms of 'deinstitutionalization'
(1944-69), self-definition' (1970s-1980s) and globalization'
In 1865 a high churchman was elected as
Like The Episcopal Church nationally,
In 1952 Pardue brought in
Samuel Shoemaker, who instituted the interdenominational Pittsburgh Experiment
- prayer groups aimed at the wider community, especially businessmen. This
marked a shift from institutional engagement with society. Pardue
asked that Episcopal groups include a priest and begin
with Holy Communion.
Within a framework of church order, he gave the
diocese a spiritual basis that transcended earlier churchmanship divisions.
Under the moderate liberal Robert Appleyard
Incipient culture wars made
Two events were crucial for both self-definition' and globalization.' In 1975 (at Guest's instigation) Trinity
Episcopal School of Ministry (TESM) was established, self-consciously
alternative to The Episcopal Church's existing seminaries. (Perhaps the book's most
important lesson is the essential role of a seminary in moulding and
maintaining identity.) Then in 1980 (at Guest's suggestion) Alden Hathaway a
former social liberal who had undergone a dramatic personal conversion, was
By the mid-Eighties
The South American Missionary Society and other parachurch organizations movedtheir
headquarters to Ambridge (home of TESM).
Robert Duncan was appointed canon to the ordinary' in
1992 and elected to succeed Hathaway in 1995. During the Nineties the dismay of
what was now a conservative majority in the diocese at developments within TEC
grew, with homosexuality a defining issue.
Like nineteenth-century evangelicals,
Why catholic ecclesiology was embraced is not
discussed. Was it significant that Robert Duncan was an Anglo-Catholic before
he became an Evangelical, trained like Pardue at the
General Theological Seminary? Did alliance with Anglo-Catholics have an effect?
on developments in
TEC would also have been useful (as would an index). Is it significant that
Keith Ackerman, John Howe and Mark Lawrence are all former
This insightful, fair-minded and illuminating study
poses a challenge.
THE LABOUR OF OBEDIENCE
The Benedictines of Pershore,
Nashdom and Elmore-A History
Anglo-Papalism is a section
of Anglo-Catholicism, itself a section of Anglicanism which is a section of
Christianity. The Benedictines of Pershore, Nashdom and Elmore are historic champions of this section
of Anglicanism, but they have had an influence that is far from narrow or
sectional. Peta Dunstan's
history traces Anglican Benedictine life through its heroes and their struggles
with the esf ablished
church over a century to this day.
The story of Nashdom is the
story of charismatic, sometimes flamboyant leaders who give their all to an
ecumenical vision of the Anglican church as a true
branch of the catholic church with a homing instinct for papal oversight.
Reading The Labour of Obedience is a reminder of how sadly alien that
instinct has been to much of the Church of England.
It is a good story tinged with irony and sadness. The
vision for Latin worship in baroque splendour that sustained the early years
footed as the great
church of the west largely abandoned Latin and baroque for vernacular
simplicity in the wake of the 1962-5 Vatican Council. Anglo-Papalism
that had stood against a more moderate Anglo-Catholicism saw Pope Paul VI
making reforms endorsing aspects of the Anglican reformation.
The Labour of Obedience charts the rise
and fall of a community that now has a conventual
prior rather than an abbot. The history is set against the backcloth of an
erosion of Christian commitment in our land which has contributed to a severe
decline of professions to the religious life. Dunstan
points out that though Elmore's monks are now few, the
external oblature of the community numbers several
hundred, indicating the wider impact of the monastic community.
Although I have been an occasional visitor to the
community my own priestly vocation was inspired by a Nashdom oblate as well as a priest who served at All
Pascal said the silent beauty of a holy life is the
most powerful influence in the world. The Labour of Obedience charts
such a powerful influence towards wholehearted Christian commitment that goes
beyond the pages of this study.
The Revd Drjohn Twisleton Rector of St Giles, Horsted
A Spiritual and Cultural Journey
Lion, 224pp, hbk 978 0 74595
270 3, £20
When I was 11 I read excitedly Robert Wesf all's A Kingdom by the Sea, in which the main
character a young lad called Harry makes thejourney
Bradley shares my
love for pilgrimage, and whether
you know him from the radio talking lovingly about the Buxton Gilbert and
Sullivan Festival, Victorian hymnody or the Celtic
saints you can be sure that he loves making journeys to sites associated with
all of these things.
This book inspires one to make the journey, to travel
as countless have done before you to a holy site and there to pray (personally
I have been inspired to consider doing
Bradley is quick to remind us that pilgrimage is not
just the destination but the journey itself, the people you meet, the places
you see and the prayers you are able to offer.
This well-illustrated book is divided into two
sections. The first deals with history and development of pilgrimage in the
Church and more particularly in the British Isles, with sections on Walsingham,
It is to be hoped that these sites will once again
flourish. In our constituency this has been aided by the Catholic Societies who
often arrange day pilgrimages to sites (for example, there are pilgrimages to
the Shrine of Our Lady at Jesmond and at Haddington).
The last chapter of the first half of the book is
entitled 'How to be a pilgrim' In it Bradley
encourages pilgrimage that can be undertaken in a persons own church or at home
through the stations of the cross or by having a labyrinth set up in a church.
Bradley is also keen that we should embrace the virtual aid and through the
internet make a virtual/ spiritual pilgrimage to places such as Guadalupe which
might be out of reach for many.
The second half of the book offers guides to different
places of pilgrimage both in this country and on the Continent. These are
written in an easy-to-read style and from Bradley s own perspective and they
offer the reader a glimpse at what a pilgrimage to the place might be like. The
Celtic influence is clear in the places Bradley chooses to include, with sites
All in all this is a wonderful book and well worth
giving as a present (perhaps to a confirmation candidate?). Pilgrimage has
become an important part of the Catholic constituency in the Church of England.
Whether it is in Walsingham, or further afield in
We acknowledge that we are a pilgrim people together,
that we walk together sharing our faith journeys - as we go perhaps in spirit
we join in one of Bradleys favourite pilgrim hymns
written by Norman Macleod (1812-72): 'Courage
brother! do not stumble though thy path be dark as
night; there's a star to guide the humble: 'trust in God, and do the right!"
Win Paul Young
Windblown Media, 248pp, pbk
978 0 340 97949 5, £7.99
'The most heart-warming, inspirational story I have
read in decades -J.John'.
Since it was published in the States two years ago,
it's a safe bet there have been more copies sold of The Shack than all
the books reviewed in New Directions in
that time. I first came across the book through a friend who had been given it
by the Dean of St Albans.
Whether the J. John whose puff graces the back cover
is the reverend Dean or an itinerant evangelist from Chorley
Wood who bears the same name I am not sure.
More to the point, does the book live up to the
come-on? It is very much an expression of the author's wrestling with his past.
The child of missionaries, he suffered sexual abuse first from the
It was partly to explain this to his family and a few
close friends that Young wrote The Shack. Then the book was rewritten,
privately printed and became a publishing phenomenon through internet
Whether or not it will go the way of other
recent Christian publishing sensations or stand up there with The Pilgrim's
Progress and the works of C.S. Lewis as its supporters claim remains to be
If it were a matter of prose style The Shack would
disappear without trace. Books which are as badly written as
this one rarely last. But Young does write from the heart. He has the
conviction of all goodbad writers. And he articulates
what looks more and more like a mainstream Evangelical take on Christianity.
It is these churches who have hoovered
up this book, even though Young states that as a man damaged by the Church he
believes '[the institutional church] doesn't work for those of us who are hurt
and those of us who are damaged.'
Maybe Evangelical Christians don't believe they belong
to a church. Young at least has the integrity not to go to church much now, and
this may be of a piece with his belief that it doesn't matter how you come to
God, you can be Muslim, Jew or non-believer. He might have taken a more nuance
d view from Nostra Aetate, but then if you
It's no great surprise given his background that Young
should also be very down on ritual, even though the book revolves around
secular rituals. His home-made Eucharistic moment is particularly sentimental, though probably no more so than the average
seminary worship experiment. More interesting is the shock and horror with
which some Evangelical commentators have reacted to the way Young incarnates
Now it is no great news, or it shouldn't be, to say
Jesus was Jewish. And it's with 'the East' as if Christians have no spiritual
tradition, though maybe that's so for the people Young writes for. But to make
the Father into an Oprah Winfrey figure says a lot about where Evangelical
culture is heading. First, it shows a detachment from the revelation given by
The biblical Father /Son relationship - 'he who has
seen me has seen the Father' - is ignored in the game of undermining people's
prejudices. Like a good liberal theologian, Young suggests God had to appear
masculine when mankind was less civilized but now we have advanced and God can
Quite what that says about the relation of the sexes
or the depth of revelation Young doesn't explore.
Indeed, in reply to critics who say his theology is
wrong he has defended himself by saying he was only writing a story. That's not
an argument Bunyan or C.S. Lewis would have used.
But if God the Father is Oprah, Evangelical culture
has become highly receptive to a liberal critique of the Christian tradition.
This weakness shows in the handling of the Trinity, though it is good that
popular writing should take the Trinity seriously. It also shows in Young's
attempt at theodicy.
One of the story's main strands is that the central
character had a young daughter abducted and killed by a serial killer while on
a lakeside holiday (why anybody goes on lakeside holidays in the States is a
mystery when the camps are such a magnet for serial killers).
What Young says about evil is often good; it's an
arm's length take on the Augustine/Aquinas idea of evil as emptiness or
non-being. And it is clear from Young's own history and the responses to his
book that too many people have been driven from Christianity by bad teaching
about divine punishment.
But in the end, after lots of talking and hugs, God's
defence is not much
God's role in this scenario is to help man's
self-realization, especially by taking away the obstacles of sin and guilt.
There is no real sense that man is here on earth to glorify God.
For all the many good points Young makes along the
way, this is a thin Christianity. And yet... in Private Lives Noel
Coward has Amanda say, 'Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.' This book is
cheap music. It may well be potent, not least because it reflects the
prejudices and current spiritual direction of Evangelical opinion.
On balance, the puff on the back probably comes from
the preacher from Chorley Wood rather than the Dean
of St Albans.
Those who wish to follow up the commentary on Rubens' Descent
from the Cross (Sacred Vision, p 12) may be interested in some further
Perhaps the most readable account of the careers of
both Rubens and Rembrandt is Simon Schama's
beautifully illustrated volume
The Phaidon series Art &
Ideas is highly to be recommended. The two relevant volumes
are Rubens by Kristian Lohse Belkin [ISBN 0-7148-3412-2] and Rembrandt
by Mariet Westermann [ISBN978-0-7148-3857-
Westermann is also the
author of a useful book on a related topic, The Art of the
Dutch Republic [Laurence King Publishing, ISBN
Essential background is Schama's
The Embarrassment of Riches [Fontana Press,
ISBN 0-00-686136-9] and Jonathan Israel's mammoth history The