views, reviews and previews
Until 9 March 2014 Admission £15, concessions available
THIS IS a large show of s paintings. The exhibition guide – it’s not really a catalogue doesn’t say how many, but there are a lot of them. It is a very good introduction to Klee’s work. And it probably requires repeated viewing because there are so many pictures which because of their size and intricacy require close inspection.
Klee (1879–1940) was a Swiss German. He had two great influences on his work. Firstly, there were the Modernists – Picasso and Braque, Matisse and Delaunay, and the Blaue Reiter group around Kandinsky. He joined these artists in their reinvention of perspective and space and in the use of contrasting colours. The second great influence on Klee was Tunisia, its light and landscape, and the architecture and culture of the Arab world.
These influences were worked out in extensive writings and teaching at the Bauhaus as well as in the paintings and drawings themselves. Through this body of work Klee himself was to influence Miró and Rothko. Indeed with all these different relations to past and future artists, the show could be treated as a game of spot the influence. But that would be a shame. Much more interesting is simply to look at the paintings and use three of Klee’s own comments to guide our appreciation.
‘Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always ... that’s the meaning of the happy hour: colour and I are one. I am a painter.’ Not a bad way into understanding what makes a painter a painter. And there are fabulous works which show this. Green X Above Left may not sound promising but it is a lovely watercolour on paper from 1915. All the influences
too close to North Acrican townscapes are both rigorous and cleansing. At first glance some of them do resemble a rough and ready patchwork quilt, but give them time. A work such as the 1933 Fire at Full Moon draws the viewer in. It is abstract but not frighteningly so – you can see where the abstraction has come crom. The alignment of shape and colour and tone creates movement and balance. It interests and soothes the mind and the spirit. Klee is not an artist who takes on the great themes of his age, despite being labelled degenerate by the Nazis and fleeing from Germany when Hitler became Chancellor. He appeals to our less heroic moments, when we come home from work or when we just want to be cheerful in heart and mind. See him at Tate Modern and enjoy his work.
For details of dates
and venues see
PROTEAN, SWIFTIAN satire, scintillating, razor-sharp wit, quicksilver lyrics, acute and penetrating observation, no expletives deleted, Fascinating Aïda (Dillie Keane, Adèle Anderson, Liza Pulman) are back and are on tour. Founded by Dillie Keane some thirty years ago, with Adèle Anderson joining a year later, and Liza Pulman a more recent addition, the group has grown old disgracefully. Their show, ‘Charm Offensive’, is exactly what it says, charming and offensive. But they take offense at deserving targets. Where much of the language might make workers on a building site blush, somehow these three sophisticated are there to see but it is more, or rather it is a personal expression of why the influences are valuable. In this painting the balance of colour and shape is a harmony which gives sense to another of Klee’s (Schopenhauerian) thoughts: ‘Art does not reproduce the visible: rather, it makes it visible.’ For all his later experimentation – the Dadaist stuff is not really what Klee was about, and I can do without Ubuesque figures in silly postures – this was where Klee’s real genius lay.
The third of Klee’s comments about his work was that he took a line for a walk. Line, often very thick, black line, is especially important in the synthesis of his art in the late works, notably Rich Harbour and the Park near Lu. It doesn’t always work out. His witches and forest pictures mine a deep seam in Germanic art with a twentieth-century take on Altdorfer, but pendulous hags are a specialized taste. More seriously, the drawings and watercolours with a thinner, ink line gave Klee the reputation of a dreamer and at their worst these are sentimental in the manner of a small town lady artist. But at their best, notably in sketches for the ballet or fantastic opera, they combine strength of purpose with lightness of touch.
So, though this is a large show, it can be whittled down with the
judicious application of prejudice. The abstract blocks of colour which are
close but not women in elegant evening dresses,
with perfect enunciation, manage to carry it off with aplomb. With a group of
distinguished clerics, I caught the penultimate performance of their Christmas
residency at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. They are now on a nationwide tour and are
very likely to be at a theatre near you. Look at their website for full details
of dates, times and places. They remain among the finest cabaret performers of
They dissect the social, political, cultural and sexual mores of contemporary society, and particularly middle-class, middle-brow morality, with a keen eye and forensic precision and with admirable verbal dexterity. Their ‘Bulgarian Songs’ are short and pithy comments and up-to-the minute observations on current affairs. In a brief image or sentence, almost haikus in their compact power, they skewer some pettifogging, some public, political or pecuniary outrage. CEOs of energy companies, Nigella Lawson, Victoria Beckham are in their sights. There is a high-wire recklessness about some of the comments and there were some gasps from the audience at a couple of palpable hits, which may have been from m’learned friends spotting a nice little earner in the libel courts. Other highlights include a song about wives spending their banker husbands’ bonus which is spot on in its depiction of vacuous avarice. The dissection of OFSTED (their rendering of the acronym is rudely witty) and the demolition of Academies are brutal. Their range, however, is not limited to current affairs. Their understanding of the fraught area of relationships and of modern sexual habit is the subject of several songs. Dillie Keane’s hilarious rendition of ‘Dogging’ leaves nothing to the imagination. Liza Pulman, whose soprano voice is crystal clear, sings a ballad ‘Out of Practice’ about two divorcees on a date making the first tentative moves in a relationship, is beautifully written and never falls into sentimentality. ‘Prisoner of Gender’ is about Adèle Anderson’s gender re-alignment. It was a powerful narrative and, as ever, the lyrics were witty and accomplished. It stopped the show. The applause was ecstatic and sustained which says a great deal about the public mood on this and related issues. The clergy were more
ambivalent in their reaction than the rest of the audience.
You ought not to go if you like Mr Cameron, send your children to Academy schools, think that dogging is taking your dog for a walk, or are offended by all or any of the following words: **** **** *******-**** **** ***** ******** ******* ******** Otherwise, this is a show not to be missed.
PRIESTS & POLITICS
The Church Speaks Out
SCM Press, 256pp, pbk
978 0334046578, £19.99
EARLY IN his archiepiscopal incarnation Justin Welby was confronted by the reality that utterances from Lambeth Palace on matters of public policy, even in an area where the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Prelate has some secular experience, will not go unchallenged.
In the latest of a series of informative and well-written histories for the general reader, Trevor Beeson in Priests & Politics rebuffs robustly the frequently made assertion that the Church should not intervene in issues of politics. He does, however, wisely advise that before making pronouncements, ‘some bishops, and most especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, need advisory groups of professionals with whom they can meet to discuss political, economic and social issues’. The author may have added wisely that His Grace needs to be sure that his own house is in order before he casts stones against mammon’s.
Trevor Beeson was a Canon of Westminster Abbey before becoming Dean of Winchester and served as Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, so has been well placed to observe and comment upon the political process and the opportunities and pitfalls for the Church in entering into the public domain. This work provides an introductory chapter outlining the Christian foundation of social and political action and, following the pattern of his previous books, the author then provides brief lives of the Church’s chief spokesmen on particular subjects, together with the contributions of others, vivid accounts of public controversies these usually created and assessments of their influence on attitudes and events.
The chapter on ‘Socialism with a Christian soul’ makes for
fascinating reading on the fervour that underscored social action in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Christian Social Union (CSU) is
examined, and the style and focus of its founder Henry Scott Holland is
contrasted with that of the Guild of St Matthew (GSM) founded by the colourful
Stewart Headlam. There was little love lost between the two organizations, but
even so their aims were broadly the same as they both sought to arouse the
social consciousness of the Church of England.
Holland was a serious and in his day a significant theologian; however, Headlam would accuse the CSU of being ‘too facile and not concerned with action’, and Beeson tells the joke about its approach: ‘Here’s a glaring evil, let’s read a paper about it’. Bishop Westcott’s response to Headlam was that he confused eternal moral principles with a temporary and expedient programme of politicians. Alas, all too often in today’s Church there is far too little sound and reflective theological reflection let alone biblical exegesis to underpin superficial and often ideologically driven pronouncements from so called ‘lead bishops’ or the growing number of Diocesan and Church House ‘working parties’. The book could have been better titled Prelates, Priests and Politics as understandably it has been and remains the bishops who are called to be proclaimers and teachers.
Understandably much of this book deals with the big picture of national political issues and movements, and greater attention could have been given to local politics and the role played by individual clergy and parishes in local government.
This book is informative and highlights the extent to which the divisive and draining preoccupations of the past two decades have allowed the Anglo-Catholic prophetic advocacy and practical action to become increasingly absent from the public domain.
The final chapter, ‘Whither prophecy’, reflects upon the likelihood of the Church gaining as much attention during the present century and how its influence may be best exerted in a still turbulent and increasingly secularized nation. This includes an important focus upon the fact that the Church of England now has more than 2,500 self-supporting clergy who have remained in their secular employment after ordination. Beeson laments ‘few, if any, have been trained to handle the hard ethical designs frequently demanded of those who hold senior executive posts, and the wrong kind of training may be a hindrance to it’. Amen to that and something that perhaps the Primate of All England may care to reflect upon in the House of Lords tea room with his noble colleague the Revd Stephen Green!
BEYOND THE EDGE
for Adventurous Souls
Andrew D. Mayes
SPCK, 160pp, pbk
978 0281071142, £10.99
VENTURESOME FAITHis what Christians aspire to, as opposed to timidity, and so,contrary to popular perception, we are among the most forward-looking of people. We are drawn out of ourselves by the vision of God in Jesus Christ and his call ‘Follow me’ which comes to us from the Gospels and the sacramental life of the Church. Andrew Mayes’s latest book is a venturesome work in that it both appeals to ‘adventurous souls’ and opens up terrain to Christian pilgrims and those who would accompany them as spiritual directors. Canon Mayes gives a clear structure – the life of Jesus and its geography – with an energetic narrative to carry us along, peppered with wisdom from the Christian tradition especially linked to spiritual transitions.
The author’s detailed knowledge of the Holy Land is a great enrichment, coupled as it is with his grasp of Scripture and the faith and prayer of the Church through the ages. Ten chapters invite us into the life of Jesus: his baptism in Jordan, desert experience, encounters with the Syrophoenician woman, Gadarene demoniacs and the woman at Jacob’s Well, then up Transfiguration Mount, down to Jerusalem and back to Galilee. Each chapter looks at where the historical action of Jesus leads us, how that relates to the journey of faith and especially the different thresholds we pass, and the element of risk, ending with questions for reflection and prayer exercises. There is a valuable appendix on models of spiritual direction and accompaniment. What I found most valuable in Beyond the Edge were the brief illustrations of key realms of the spiritual tradition, such as the dark night of the soul, Ignatian meditation, prayer as an ascent o God and sacramentality, for example, the sacrament of the present moment. These illustrations are woven into a narrative about Jesus and, by implication, the Christian disciple and baptism is a recurrent theme. I wasgrateful to be reminded that the dove at Jesus’ baptism is not so much a dove of peace but bears sacrificial symbolism linked to his life transition and ours. Mayes’ treatment of the Syrophoenician woman is bold in drawing out its plain sense with Jesus maybe having his thought world opened up through the encounter. He is also adventurous in working from the Zen saying about ‘taking tea with your demons’ and providing a prayer exercise linked to this reflecting on the Gadarene demoniac.
This is orthodox but his challenge to a perceived dualistic infection in Christian tradition sits a shade uncomfortably with his baptismal references. Beyond the Edge is an easy yet challenging read that helps open a dialogue between one’s inner struggles and those of Jesus. It is equipped to serve groups wishing to see their life and faith moved forward, carried with the momentum of the Gospel and the Church’s life and faith, and it will be of service to spiritual directors.
THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD
Being, Consciousness, Bliss
David Bentley Hart Yale University Press, 376pp, hbk
978 0300166842, £18.99
THIS IS the most intelligent, sane, lively, perceptive, cheerful, cheeky and amusing book of philosophical polemics I have read in many years. It is an antidote to the trivial slanging match which makes up the so-called God debate between the new atheists such as Richard Dawkins and many prominent theologians. Both sides in this argument are so bad, says Bentley Hart, that they deserve each other. For instance, the somewhat intellectually-challenged great zoologist Richard Dawkins has written that if God exists we ought to be able to detect him with our scientific instruments. Bentley Hart usefully points out that no theologian in the history of the world’s faiths has ever surmised that God is an object in his own universe. On the other side, creationists are wrong to suppose, as the deists supposed, that God is merely some version of the great architect who formed the world and then left it to run itself.
By contrast, Bentley Hart reiterates the views of the medieval theologians: that God does not exist, and he is not a being like other beings; rather he is the ground of being who bestows reality on to the natural order. That is, as the medieval thinkers said, God is the necessary first cause who makes actual and real what would otherwise be only potential. There is nothing in the merely natural order which could possibly account for the existence of the natural order. It is contingent and requires that necessary first cause here, and in Aquinas, identified as God. Some materialist philosophers argue that for its existence the universe requires only chaos and the so-called laws of physics operating upon that chaos. This fails to understand that – not only are the laws of physics constantly changing in the light of our new thoughts – if there are laws of physics at all, then there is already some sort of order and not a mere chaos.
So much for this illuminating study of being. The second part of the book is a discussion of consciousness by which we apprehend being. Bentley Hart shows the implausibility of the materialist view of consciousness as an epiphenomenon – a kind of accident – arising out of the material substance of the brain. The mind is not reducible to the brain and natural selection cannot account for the subtle uses of the brain which the mind employs (for instance) to contemplate philosophical theology or to listen to Bach. There was nothing in the process of evolution to programme the development of the brain on these lines. The third part of this book concerns the intentionality of human intelligence: that is the way in which our minds are attracted to the possibility of the truths of existence – Being.
It is refreshing to find a book so original, piercing so acutely the fog of so much that passes for philosophical theology. The originality here so brilliantly considered by Bentley Hart is in fact a representation of the insights of the great medieval metaphysicians which, as he shows, have a very wide ecumenical context, for they are what have always been taught by the mystical theologians of all the main religions. These profound insights into the nature of being have been forgotten and neglected since the Enlightenment to the tragic impoverishment of philosophical understanding. Moreover, there is nothing obscurely technical about this riveting book. To read it is to have the scales removed from one’s eyes and the supposed revelations of the materialist philosophy seen at last for they are: blinkers. And the vaunted Enlightenment itself is rather a clouding over. As a result, the philosophy of the succeeding four hundred years has – with a few notable exceptions such as Immanuel Kant and R.G. Collingwood – been very dull. As a philosophical theologian, Bentley Hart is a man among boys.
SUSSEX SAINTS & MARTYRS
Country Books, 65pp, pbk
78 1906789909, £6.99
ALTHOUGH THE conversion of England to Christianity is most closely identified with Augustine’s mission of 597, there were waves of evangelization from 303 when the Roman Empirebecameofficially Christian. Sussex was impacted last but not least in a later wave so Wilfrid’s first cathedral at Selsey was dated 681. In Sussex Saints & Martyrs, Brighton-born Philip Pavey writes engagingly of how ‘Selig Sussex’ came about – holy not silly – from that late start. The big figures in this very readable history are Wilfrid, Cuthman, Dunstan, Leonard and Richard before the Reformation and Philip Howard and the Lewes martyrs thereafter. Pavey weighs historical probabilities, sifting fact from legend without being too academic.
I was interested in Wilfrid’s alleged first visit to Sussex on return from his episcopal consecration through his ship hitting shore when Sussex looters were miraculously repelled with slaughter of the pagan chief priest. Did Bede omit this story found in Eddius Stephanus’ biography as detrimental to Wilfrid who returned to so effectively evangelize Sussex? The picture of St Wilfrid’s Church, Church Norton looks, as Pavey suggests, like the residue of Wilfrid’s cathedral. The chapter on Chichester Diocese’s other patron Richard (1197–1253) records a warmer saint of simplicity, humility and generosity. Not so generous though to priests who spoke indistinctly or too fast whom he suspended!
The author provides a careful and to my mind very fair record of the Reformation which left west Sussex more Catholic than the east to this day. His Postscript makes unfavourable comparison between post and pre-Reformation eras, citing the barbarous treatment Christians gave to one another over the later period. This small book is an easy and interesting read and will be of interest beyond the south of England.
THE CHURCH OF BLUE COLUMNS
St Olave, Mitcham 1928–1939
£5 + £2.50 p&p, available from the author t 29, St Olave’s Walk, London, SW16 5QQ. Cheques should be made payable to ‘St Olave PCC Mitcham’.
THE PERIOD between the wars saw a campaign of church-building generally, and particularly in the diocese of Southwark. A large number of new estates were built in south London, and this great population shift, expected to involve some 300,000 people, necessitated an urgent increase both in clergy and church buildings. It was more than fortunate at that time that the Anglican Bishop of Southwark was Cyril Garbett, later Archbishop of York, as Garbett saw this situation as an excellent opportunity for mission and church development. The story of this work has already been fully told in The Twenty-Five Churches of the Southwark Diocese by Kenneth Richardson, published in 2002.
What this new book, published by St Olave’s PCC, does is to look at one of these twenty-five churches in greater detail, with local activities being set in the context of national trends and events. There is a wealth of interesting detail on such topics as disputes over ritual and the centrality of the mass, the architecture of the church, church finance, and the origins and social status of these new parishioners. Of particular interest is the history and background of the first vicar, Fr Reginald Haslam, who was at St Olave for over ten years, leaving in February 1938. Fr Haslam’s achievements were considerable, and the numbers who attended church services during the Thirties would be the envy of any parish priest today. At the same time, largely due to disagreements over ritual, some members of the congregation did leave, and attended instead a neighbouring church which was certainly not Anglo-Catholic.
Fr Haslam had made no secret of his churchmanship, and as St Olave’s had no pre-existing traditions, he proposed to introduce the type of service to which he had been accustomed, namely services would be like those held in Southwark Cathedral. This led to some disagreements in the usual areas, i.e. honour being given to the Virgin Mary, confessional, processions, use of candles and robes, and the introduction of incense.
The whole story, given in fascinating detail in the book, is reminiscent of the ritual controversies of the late Victorian period. Fr Haslam himself said that he had ‘had more difficulties at St Olave’s than he had ever had in his life before, but in spite of all the difficulties, he had never been so happy anywhere else’. By the end of 1931, once the Annual meeting had passed a vote of confidence in Fr Haslam, the ritual difficulties were largely overcome, though other issues were to occur at a later date.
In his book, Kenneth Richardson had said ‘On historical and architectural grounds, this church is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding of the Southwark Twenty-Five’. The historical interest is explained by the link with the former church of St Olave in Tooley Street, Southwark, and the architectural style is of a Basilican type, the architect being Arthur C. Martin. Both these themes are explored thoroughly in Keith Penny’s book.
The book concludes with seven appendices and four tables which expand upon issues raised within the narrative itself.
I would have no hesitation in fully recommending this book to anyone with an interest in the development of churches between the wars, with its mix of local and Anglo-Catholic history. Its more general themes of vigorous beginnings and later decline, low versus high churchmanship, a fine building that is costing a great deal to maintain, finance and stewardship are also worthy of a much wider readership.
POPE JOHN PAUL I
AND THE APPARENTLY NON-ACTING PERSON’
Pia Matthews Gracewing, 316pp, pbk
78 0852448052, £15.99
THIS BOOK is recommended to anyone who likes a ‘hard read’, and is capable of understanding that when Jesus told his listeners that they could read the signs of the weather but could not read the signs of the times, Pope John Paul II is one that should be exempted from that stricture. How many, I wonder, have been aware of the last Pope but one as a philosopher, who read ‘the signs of the times’ and saw it as an important part of his vocation to resist the now long prevalent Utilitarian philosophy? Whatever works is right and good and whatever brings about the greatest (worldly) satisfaction is the best we can aim at.
John Paul II was adamant that neither of these philosophies is true and in accord with God’s love and command of charity in human affairs. His philosophy is based on Scripture, St Augustine, and experience.
The human being is a person: not quite in the sense that the Holy Trinity is a community of persons, but not unrecognizably different either. (The same is true of angels.) No human being is expendable or out of the reach of God’s love. It is part of the ‘signs of the times’, however, that scientists now tend to accept the utilitarian view of things – even to the extreme of thinking that a person in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ is incapable of purposive action and would be ‘better off dead’. This is the point of this book’s title. The ‘non-acting person’ is one who is incapable of living a worthwhile life and may be killed in a variety of ways because he has no will or thought processes or any form of consciousness. He may have been diagnosed as dead or brain-stem dead; he may be totally paralysed and incapable of communication; or he may be incapable of any sort of spiritual life. This is the point of the word ‘apparently’ in the book’s title: there is no living person to whom the love and care of God cannot penetrate; and the question can be posed, ‘who is the good Samaritan?’ – the person in his ‘dark night’, or the charitable person who attempts to make a relationship with him?
So what can be suggested as a counterbalance to those who follow the utilitarian line? ‘Intensive interaction’, still in its infancy, ‘offers some deep understanding of the experience of the person with profound disability, when it is attempted by someone who cares for the real human being and is willing for the learning to be mutual’.
I could scarcely expect Pia Matthews to go beyond her complicated stated subject, but it does seem worth saying two more things. One is that the members of the Welsh Assembly Government recently took a stance in the debate (rather beyond their intellectual abilities I am afraid) about ‘what is a human being?’, when they enacted their ‘presumed consent’ legislation. The second is that the Church should be giving more active consideration to the question, ‘what would a Christian economic and monetary system be like?’ for at present Utilitarianism bedevils our entire lives.
In short, Dr Matthews’ book leads us through a maze of conflicting philosophies, of which Pope John Paul II’s appears to me to be the truly Christian one. This book is full of interest, and I intend to return to it, and benefit by doing so.
Music for High Mass and Benediction from St Magnus the Martyr
The Choir of St Magnus the Martyr John Eady, Organ;
William Petter, Director
£8, Available from Amazon or St Magnus the Martyr, Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6DN. More information may be found at <https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=pOPaVM-gifs>
THE LAST time I was at St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge it was for the launch of this CD. As ever the air was alive with excitement as over 100 people gathered for Second Vespers of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The liturgical offering was rich and prayerful and this was matched and augmented by the musical offering from the choir. Much of the music sung at Vespers is featured on this new CD including a wonderfully magisterial ‘Dixit Dominus’ composed by Paulo Giorza. To say that it makes the hairs stand up on the back of the neck would be an understatement!
William Petter is to be congratulated on gathering together a talented quintet (four singers and an organist) to perform this wonderful music, much of which has not seen the light of day since it was blacklisted by the motu proprio of Pope St Pius X in 1904. The aim of the motu proprio was to return the Church to a stricter use of Gregorian Chant. The worship at St Magnus seeks to combine these two worlds (and to encourage this Petter is not afraid to compose pieces himself).
The music on this recording certainly stirs the soul. Louis Niedermeyer’s Mass in D is a particular favourite of mine, there is a deep joy and triumph in the Gloria and Petter has very much captured the feel and style of the original in his newly composed Benedictus to complete the Mass setting.
There is music here also from better-known composers: who knew that the Bach-Gounod ‘Ave Maria’ would be found on the blacklist alongside a ‘Tantum Ergo’ by Elgar? And yet there they are. Randall Thompson’s ‘Alleluia’ is one I would like to see performed in more churches; its simple rising repetition of Alleluia speaks of an Easter joy at daybreak as the world sleeps.
In among all these gems the stars for me are Petter’s arrangement of the Benedictus from Verdi’s Rigoletto and Paulo Giorza’s triumphant ‘Regina Coeli’. The use of the Verdi is masterful and reminds us of the crossover between the sacred and secular worlds of music that until recently was something that was expected. It is to be hoped that other churches may in time bravely take on some of the religious music found in modern musicals and written by modern composers (would it be possible to use pieces from Lloyd-Webber’s Superstar and his Requiem liturgically? I for one would give it a go). That however is an aside.
This is a wonderful CD that brings to light little-heard music that deserves a wider audience in church. It is music that, while once rejected, continues to serve the liturgy and aid the worship of God. I would urge you to dig out your Amazon vouchers, or send a cheque to St Magnus Church and get yourself a copy of this disc. You won’t be disappointed and it will open up a whole new world of music to you. Wonderful music, produced in a context that promotes the Catholic faith, is to be applauded and supported by us all.
Petra Robinson ND
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