views, reviews and previews
Magnificence in Renaissance Venice National Gallery
19 March-15 June
Admission £14, concessions available
'IT MAY be doubted whether, as a mere painter, Paolo Veronese has ever been surpassed.' Berenson's putdown is as feline as it is obtuse. The great colourists — Rubens, Delacroix, Cezanne, Matisse — all turned to Veronese. In the Louvre his great Wedding at Cana is fit to hang in the same room as the Mona Lisa, where everyone turns their backs on it. Sadly, that is what people have been doing to Veronese since Berenson's day and it is what the National Gallery's latest exhibition tries to change.
There are on show fifty of the best of Veronese's paintings. Some of his very greatest work — The Wedding at Cana, The Feast in the House of Levi, the decorations of the Palazzo Ducale in Venice — are too large or difficult to move but the National's exhibition is as fine as could be asked for.
The show's title almost undoes this good work. Modern sensibility sees Veronese as a merely decorative artist. His brother was in the fabrics business and there are gorgeous fabrics here —wonderful dresses, fine vestments, a whole range of different textures and shades. There's also bling and not too much by way of characterful expression in his younger models.
But Veronese is more than a fashionista's delight, even if he was noted in his own day as a bit of a dandy. Bridget Riley's fascinating interview, 'The colour collection,' explains how Veronese expresses himself not with the drama of Expressionism or the heroics of a Michelangelo or Titian but simply with the colour of paint. The point is the painted colour. So the whole of a painting is what he is about. Not the subjects, even though he places them with gusto and artful profusion. Now even the strength of the colours, Jut how all the colours combine to 'mate a sensation in paint. The colour of colour is his real subject.
Only when this is understood can we make sense of those parts of the works which look weak. So, background figures are often barely filled in, not because Veronese couldn't be bothered but because the flow of colour demands that they shouldn't be. There is often little depth or perspective, even though it is hinted at by classical buildings. This is not poor technique — well, maybe it is in the early Temptation of St Anthony — but the lack of movement backwards and forwards has made way for twisting movements across the surface of the canvas which invigorate the colour.
How much Veronese developed this approach himself and how much he learnt from the early works of Titian needs some study. One of the earliest works at the National — The Conversion of Mary Magdalen — was probably painted in Verona and already shows many of Veronese's trademarks — the skilful positioning of a crowd of people, noble architecture, the balance of dark and light with a dark centre and a light background, idealized and real heads, an excellent dog, but above all the bath of colour achieved through different hues and the innovative placing of those hues against each other. There is also a definite feminine allure to the Magdalen, whose pale chest contrasts nicely with the dark skinned servants.
The exhibition proceeds from the early works in a half-heartedly thematic way, but themes aren't really the point. Again and again it is the colour and the tone which matter. This is even so with the portraits. The most famous of these is the Louvre's portrait of a young woman, La Bella Nani of c.1555-60, which was influenced by an early work by Titian, La Bella of 1536. Veronese's Bella is quieter, not so bold, her face and bosom set off both by the dark of the background and her deep blue clothing, but also the gold of her hair and ornaments. She looks oddly flat, but again this is a function of Veronese's interest in colour over depth of illusion.
We find the same interest in the more variously coloured Martyrdom of St George. This unusual subject is framed by two horses, painted with a bravura skill which creates depth in the picture. Veronese has managed to hint at the cross through a centrally placed two-handed executioner's sword. And there is an excellent cherub at a typically vertiginous angle who ties the upper and lower halves of the p icture together with a martyr's wreath. But the overall feel, despite the brawny soldiers and rippling muscles of the saint, is one of calm so that the approaching violent death is transfigured by the hope of heaven.
There are many other splendid pictures to luxuriate in, especially a Lucretia, one of the best of the late works. Reproduction cannot do justice to the greens in this painting. Along with the rest of this show it is, literally, worth a look, a good, long look.
The Director of the Gallery suggests that once you have seen the exhibition you might visit a parallel exhibition of the artist's drawings in Verona.
I WAS a little taken aback when a non-churchgoing friend said to me recently, I understand completely how the church works now'. That's good I thought, because I don't! His source was none other than the hit television comedy Rev which is back on the small screen this spring. To be fair he had a point: bar one error about the respective role of area deans and archdeacons, Rev has a great deal of insight into the running the church and how it does or doesn't work. Listening to Adam describing the minutiae of the church hierarchy to a bemused imam offers food for thought - do we really need another archdeacon or layer of church bureaucracy, you may well ask, and it certainly doesn't seem to be doing Adam and St Saviour's any favours.
The usual cast of characters has returned: Nigel the lovable Reader, Colin the local drunk and Adoha the ever adoring Churchwarden. Perhaps each one of us in the church has aspects of these characters and that is why they are so compelling as well as horrifying. Adam's wife Alex is back and giving birth, the most pressing question being - how on earth did she cope with the fact he went to Cuddesdon? For me the most appealing character has to be the archdeacon - but perhaps that is just me!
At the time of writing the series is barely halfway through but Rev continues to cause comment and court controversy. The second episode of this series deals with the thorny issue of same-sex marriage, and in many ways deals with it well. The priest, approached by friends, seeks to do that which is allowed (in this case to say prayers simply with the couple). The couple of course misunderstand and he is faced with seeming to have conducted a marriage service. The interaction between Adam and the archdeacon over this is priceless comedy, as the archdeacon tries to turn a blind eye, urging Adam to destroy the evidence by eating it 'for the sake of church unity'. It is beautiful comedy, but I rather hope real archdeacons don't say that!
The final scene is the most troubling, as through the keyhole we see Adam in front of a small congregation conducting a marriage service for his friends. This is troubling because it implies that the sympathetic and pastoral response is not enough, and for some people it won't be, but it is what the church has allowed. Priests cannot simply do as they please with the sacraments and must try to live within the teaching of the Church. Same-sex marriage is not going away but conducting clandestine marriages is certainly not going to help anyone. I am not sure how much influence the clerical advisers have on Rev, but it seems Adam's response was not true to life and certainly does not help priests in difficult pastoral situation, where they want to do the best they can. But then given its television it probably isn't meant to.
So, is it true to life? I am simply not that sure; personally I will probably change channels and watch the Revd Kate Bottley on Gogglebox! She has let the world into her front room to see her and her husband watching the television and I am utterly captivated but rather glad no one has done that to me!
THE SORROW OF NATURE
The Way of the Cross with George Congreve SSJE and St Therese of Lisieux
The Catholic League, 70pp, pbk
IN 2013 The Catholic League celebrated its centenary. This year its priestly fraternity the Sodality of the Precious Blood will celebrate theirs. Both groups have been always closely associated with Anglo-Papalism and the endeavour of cross-fertilization between Anglicans and Roman Catholics that rose particularly out of the Second Vatican Council and the Ecumenical Movement. Indeed the League was fundamental in promoting Christian Unity week, something I suspect the mainstream Church of England would like to forget. We should be rightly proud that it was our societies which pioneered ecumenical
conversations and we should strive to make sure we continue in this work. 'The Bishop of Ebbsfleet's particular interest in this area is particularly encouraging. The Catholic League was the first group to make a pilgrimage to Walsingham and so it was apt that in thanksgiving the League made pilgrimage in 2013. The talks in this volume, given by Luke Miller (the Archdeacon of Hampstead), were given on the pilgrimage which followed on from the Ecumenical Marian Pilgrimage Trust week conference (see 'Book of the Month: on page 26 - Ed.). It was an ecumenical seven days at the Shrine!
The volume is split into two halves. In the first Miller looks at the ways in which there is an overlap between the writings and thoughts of Fr Congreve and those of St Therese of Lisieux. Many Anglicans will have a deep devotion to the Little Flower but few may have heard of Fr Congreve. The essays serve to lead the reader into the rich mine of literature by an Anglican priest who had a deep spiritual faith and who was devoted to walking the way of the Cross. Both Therese and Congreve find the beauty of God in creation and particularly and most movingly in the Passion of His Son. Miller includes Congreve's essay 'The Sorrow of Nature', written originally as a letter to his nephew Walter serving in the Boer War. It is a beautiful exposition on the Passion of Our Lord and the great wonders of the Eucharist. It is a profoundly moving piece of writing which speaks of the love of God for the whole world and particularly of Congreve's deep faith and love of God.
The second part of the book is a set of Stations of the Cross devised by Archdeacon Miller and using the writings of Congreve. The quotations from Congreve are in places a little long for liturgically celebrated Stations in my opinion but the texts are deeply moving and worth reading. They might be well suited for a longer devotion on Good Friday or for use at home. I have used them in church during Holy Hour and have found them readable and re-readable. Miller's commentary on each passage is helpful and points the reader to deeper reflection on the theme.
This volume shows how Anglicans and Roman Catholics can speak to each other in prayer and theology. The Catholic League is to be thanked for bringing them together and Archdeacon Miller is to be praised for bringing to Anglican and Roman Catholics alike the writings of one of the unsung theologians of our movement.
WOMEN IN WAITING
Prejudice at the Heart of the Church
Bloomsbury, 224pp, pbk
I FOUND this a very difficult book to review because I am not a supporter of the ordination of women. Why then bother to review it? Because it contains interviews with some very interesting and significant women, most of them already ordained, and no doubt some are in the running for bishops, so it is good to know what they have been through. It must be said, too, that we who oppose the ordination of women have been through some pretty horrible times as well. It may well be that those sad times are past.
My prime consideration is with the oft-repeated claim of the Church of England (not I believe an article of such importance in other churches of the Anglican Communion) that the Church of England is part of the one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. For me that includes the three orders of bishop, priest and deacon, and among a massive majority within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, these orders are reserved for men. The Church of England is a tiny off-shore island of the one Church and much of this book inflates the Church of England's ecumenical importance.
In these moving accounts of awareness of a priestly calling and the difficulties all found in going down this road, one thing seems absent. I should explain: I have spent many years interviewing candidates for ordination and for some time I was one of the panel used by Ministry Division. I had no problems with interviewing women; my task was to tease out the genuineness of their call, and many and varied, and sometimes very moving were their accounts. Sadly not all made the grade and no doubt standards still differ between dioceses. What I delighted in hearing was a call, probably heard in one's young days, and then as horizons widened being overlaid with different ideas, attractive ideas, and wealth making ideas too. Then there are people like Cardinal Vincent Nichols who told God, as he was watching Liverpool playing, 'why don't you let me alone?' For the first group, the call is something exciting and perhaps even attractive, in front of us, possibly giving direction to our studies or whatever. But for people like Vincent Nichols, and dare I say it, me, the nudge from behind becomes so insistent that the only answer I could give to 'Why do you want to be ordained?' is to say 'I can't do anything else: With people like this I always felt I could do business. And it is this second type of call that I felt lacking in most of these accounts.
For me, two of the most interesting and helpful interviews in this book were with Sarah Coakley and Jane Williams, I suppose because they were both genuine professional theologians.
I felt that the compiler, with her considerable involvement in the admirable Tear fund, and an ecumenical background with a base in the Church of Scotland, was a bit lost in the nuances of Anglican theology and church history. The book, I feel, assumes too much, and to write about Prejudice at the heart of the Church' is a bit over the top when the heart of the Church is known to be the living Lord Jesus, who loves all the women in this book, and the compiler, and this reviewer, and has no truck with prejudice at all.
On the site at Mirfield is our Theological College and we are privileged to have the students, men and women, worshipping with us and participating fully in all that is going on; we meet socially, and some members of the Community are Spiritual Directors and confessors for the students. I think it is also germane to say that within the Community there is no distinction between ordained and lay except in matters liturgical and sacramental. I long for the day when that last sentence will apply to the organization of all parts of the Holy Catholic Church. We need a Pope, the Pope needs Cardinals, but all this dressing up and having the 'chief seats at the banquet' ..
So I am a bit sad: we are all praying and trying to make the Church of England a 'both...and' church which the American church seems to find impossible; but except for a few sad years we have been a 'both_ and' church ever since the Refo rmation.We have to make sure that prejudice, and its ally sadness, have no part. Perhaps the motto ought to be a quotation from the rule of St Benedict, 'ne quis contristetur.' Lest any be made sad.
Aidan Mayoss CR
SEEING IN THE DARK
Pastoral Perspectives on Suffering from the Christian Spiritual Tradition
Canterbury Press Norwich, 200pp, pbk
978 1848252592, £16.99
CHRISTOPHER CHAPMAN'S book on how Christians deal with suffering reminds us that the question of suffering and a loving God has been, perhaps, the subject that the Church has struggled with from the beginning. How are we to make sense of our belief in a loving, redemptive, creative God in the face of the darkness that all Christians experience at some point, or points, in their lives?
The author starts his book by asking the question, 'How do we see in the dark?' How do we find our way through times of difficulty and bewilderment, lostness and pain?
He then reminds us that these times of darkness can arise out of seemingly mundane things rather than great spiritual crises. He cites something that many older clergy have had to encounter for the first time. He describes his experience of applying for a job and undergoing the process of filling out application forms and CVs, followed by competitive interviews and giving presentations, and then receiving the letter telling him that he had not got the job! He resisted the temptation to get angry with God (or even the interviewers) but had to ask himself how he was going to move on from this bruising experience, this dark time. He had to grapple with how he was going to 'weave this happening into my story in such a way that it moved me towards life rather than disintegration and how was God going to be there for me as I sought this?'
He uses the experiences and words of St John of the Cross ( 'The dark night of the soul'); George Herbert; Gerard Manley Hopkins; Hadewijch ('The struggle expressed through poetry'); Julian of Norwich ( 'The ways in which people fall and rise'); William Williams ('The terrors of travelling into the unknown'); St Ignatius of Loyola ("The helter skelter ride of the way our hearts react to suffering and hope'); Simone Weil ( 'Experiencing the absence of God'); and Etty Hillesum ( 'How to live well through suffering'). All these help the reader not to cling to suffering, nor to flee from its threat, but to discover within it the work of a resourceful and compassionate God.
The final chapter is worthy of reading for itself. In it Chapman (who is Spiritual Formation Adviser for the Diocese of Southwark), drawing on his own experience of both being a spiritual director and also someone who has received wise and insightful direction himself, examines the role of one who seeks to walk with another soul in their times of darkness. This is a chapter that everyone engaged in spiritual direction should read.
I warmly commend this readable book as a resource for anyone engaged in spiritual direction or pastoral care.
Available from the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I HAVE two of Gill Rabjohn's books on my bookshelves. I have always enjoyed her accounts of pilgrimages on foot to Walsingham and St Davids. They are conversational and witty as well as at times deeply moving and spiritual. This volume, although telling a different story (not being about a journey), is equally spiritual and fascinating to read. Interspersed with poetry, quotations and art are accounts (some from Gill, others from people she knows) of encounters with angels.
This is not an area that is often written about but when it is it is often done so in a new age' or 'spiritualist' style reminiscent of 'Healing Shops' on our high streets. Gill firmly rejects this approach. She writes, as one would expect, from a deep Christian faith. She reminds us that angels appear throughout Scripture and indeed throughout theological writings. Our modern view and theology seems almost to reject them but Gill wants to ensure they are at the fore of all we do. She reminds us we do have a guardian angel and just as the angels ministered to Our Lord they may also minister to us.
This volume is a good resource for texts about angels and reflecting on their work in creation. It is interestingly laid out and each page brings new, thought-provoking writing. It would be wrong to comment on the personal reflections in this book; they should be read prayerfully and reflectively. I would encourage anyone, however sceptical, to buy this book, read it slowly and with prayer and then reflect on how so often we entertain angels unawares.
JOHN OF THE CROSS
Seasons of Prayer
Ian Matthew OCD
Teresian Press, 93pp, pbk
Available from the Carmelite Book Service
VERY AFFORDABLE at just £5, John of the Cross; Seasons of Prayer is a good introduction to the writings of the great Doctor of the Church St John of the Cross, and it gives a thought-provoking insight into the depths of his works for readers who are more familiar with his writings. Easily accessible in a style which is scholarly yet also speaks to the heart, it will provide food for the soul. This book is a collection of revised articles which first appeared in Mount Carmel: A Review of the Spiritual Life magazine a few years ago. As these articles continued to be of interest to readers they have been published again.
Fr Ian Matthew OCD is a member of the Carmelite Order, author of The Impact of God; Soundings from St John of the Cross. He is an experienced spiritual director and retreat conductor on Carmelite spirituality.
This book is for anyone seeking a deeper relationship and intimacy with God in prayer. God meets us in our vulnerability and woundedness and brings us inner healing and transformation, even through the darkest times in our lives. The author portrays John of the Cross as an ordinary weak, suffering and vulnerable human being, while at the same time revealing the sublime spiritual heights and amorous love for Jesus which John experienced in his life. Fr Ian Matthew brings the riches of John's writings to the reader in a way that is relevant to everyday life and experience.
The book begins with a brief biography of St John of the Cross and then goes on to the main chapters. The first chapter, 'Prayer as presence, draws from St John's letters and the books he wrote to help his Brothers and Sisters, and reveals the breathtaking intimacy which is attained through a close relationship with Christ and how it is something which is for all of us.
The second chapter, 'Praying from our need; explores John's response in the midst of sickness, anxiety, vulnerability and the desert experience which are all part of our human condition. He helps us to pray from within our woundedness.
The third chapter, Anointing the mind; encourages us to allow God to bathe the eyes of our mind with light, to enable us to 'see in the dark that God continues to lead us and embrace us amid our own nights and fears.
In chapter 4, 'A song of praise, the author speaks of John's amazement at what God can do in his life, of grace from inside which helps us to pray and praise God, knowing that we are in his embrace despite the limitations life imposes on us. God leads us into his wine cellar, to the riches and intimacy of a life of prayer and union with God.
In the epilogue the author draws the threads together, looking at how John's doctrine on prayer leads us up the mountain from the level of sense and life lived on our own terms, into the light which is given by the Spirit, to ever-expanding horizons and freedom as we are embraced by the Father.
John of the Cross: Seasons of Prayer gives the reader a real taste of Carmelite prayer: prayer as Presence, prayer as Intimacy, prayer as Friendship with the God who loves us. 'This new book from the Teresian Press is going to be one of a series of books of similar length, including books on St Teresa of Avila as the Carmelite Order celebrates the fifth centenary year of her birth in 2015.
Heidi Cooper SCL
WITH PITY NOT WITH BLAME
Contemplative Praying with Julian of Norwich and The Cloud of Unknowing
Canterbury Press Norwich, 160pp, pbk 978
THE WORK of Lady Julian and, indeed, books in general about prayer, meditation, contemplation and mysticism appear to grow in appeal. Contrary to first impressions, this is not a new presentation of the Revelations but a revealing examination of Julian's theology in the light of modern understanding, helped out substantially by reference to analytical psychologists such as Jung, and by other Christian and non-Christian contemplatives.
Julian's 'showings', as she called them, are rather well known (though not perhaps always so well understood) but her writings do not dwell very much upon her technique. It might even surprise some that in the case of a great mystic in supposedly direct contact with God this is a matter to be taken into account at all. However, the late Robert Llewelyn (for this is a posthumous new edition of a book written some years ago) paid very close attention to this matter and several others, and we come away from his book better informed than when we had previously read Julian.
The second part of With Pity not Blame points to a marked contrast between Julian's writing and the anonymous writer of The Cloud of Unknowing, which appears to be almost entirely given over to the technique of contemplative prayer while the author remains a shadowy figure about whom it is possible only to speculate. His English suggests the neighbourhood of Lincoln, and it might be that he was a senior priest at the cathedral there. In his advice to a devotee he was encouraging and understanding, though I think he was also demanding. He must have been a contemplative himself.
Llewelyn's book by its many scriptural references and - endearingly enlightening - personal anecdotes makes the whole of his subject (and subjects) entirely orthodox and attractive; it might not go amiss to suggest that it may not be without its dangers in attracting people to mysticism, even though there is an insistence that the seeker must be more than just interested or even serious. The merely curious, as C.S. Lewis warned, might think that he desires to come face to face with God, but he might come face to face with some other spiritual being and have the horrific rather than the beatific vision. It seems to me that a detailed description of how to do it carries with it this peril. As the author himself comments, 'better go and dig the garden:
There is a fair amount here about music and other art forms, especially on the use of icons. To me this is an interesting part of the book, though here it is as well to recall that (quoting C.S. Lewis again) poetry - and indeed all arts - may be merely innocent or carry with them their own dangers.
The book concludes with a most interesting short chapter on what Julian of Norwich actually meant by the words, 'All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well' This final chapter has for me the effect of a great sermon, such as we would be fortunate indeed to hear in church.
I BELIEVE IN ETERNAL LIFE
Carlo Maria Martini
St Pauls Publishing, 160pp, pbk
THE TITLE conveys a clear message: it is a quotation from the Apostles' Creed, which might be more immediately familiar to English readers as 'the life everlasting'. Well, yes, he should: he was Cardinal Archbishop of Milan. He believed that upon his death he would be received into eternity by Jesus and would 'look into the eyes' of God the Father and call him 'Father' as we have been taught to do in Scripture.
The book bears confident testimony to the Cardinal's belief and is filled with detailed references to the Bible to support his arguments. I find this testament of faith most refreshing. I should not think it would persuade those who say that they require 'objective proof', but there must be many Christians, wavering under the onslaught of well-known atheists, who would find their faith renewed and reinforced by the mere fact of the existence of men like Cardinal Martini.
His main theme is that we fear death; though it is our destiny when we are born, grow up and age, but Jesus taught us to overcome this fear in the knowledge that our Father is waiting to receive us with gladness into heaven and the life everlasting. The author was so unfashionable as to preach that in that blessed eternal life we shall be with the Holy Trinity and with those whom we have loved in this present life.
Many incidents from the Bible are expounded in illuminating details, and different accounts compared with one another. Particularly interesting are the relations between Jesus and the disciples: none more so that the Transfiguration; and Jesus's way of reproving without (as a rule) harsh rebuke - so gentle as to bring out abetter response than angry words would have done. As for the Transfiguration itself we are made to understand that after this life we shall undergo, in the raising of the flesh, a transfiguration ourselves, thus sharing in the beauty of God.
Martini did believe in hell but thought it was reserved for the obstinate who could not accept heaven.
One thing that struck me forcibly was that eternity is 'God's time' from which our earthly time is derived. The author believed that this concept allowed for the resurrection of the body and the recognition of loved ones. The book ends with a collection of prayers, which I personally find inspiring and moving. The English translation contains some shaky grammar and idiom, but it is a book I value.
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