Diego Velázquez, Philip IV as a Hunter, about 1632, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Until 21 January Admission £12
The domestic, the mythological, the sacred and the courtly all find their place in this stunning collection of the work of this brilliant son of the Spain of Philip III and the early years of the seventeenth century. Initially, we are among the groundlings of Seville: musicians, drinkers, young men, old women in kitchens. Here, it is the realism which is astonishing; eggs frying in a pan or held in the hand, water (and the whole exhibition would be worth seeing for this alone) filling a glass, or running in beads down the side of an earthenware jug, the bold scoring of the brush-strokes depicting the ridges in the pottery with extraordinary accuracy. A kitchen scene has, in the background, the revelation of the risen Christ at Emmaus: the moment of divine disclosure and the quotidian in arresting juxtaposition.
Then, a number of sacred paintings. The Immaculate Conception (1618/9) loses nothing on account of its familiarity. Our Lady, crowned with stars, stands atop a harvest moon possessed of an hypnotic translucence, while at her feet are displayed all the traditional emblems of virginity taken from the Scriptures. In another picture, St John the Divine is caught entranced by his vision of the Woman clothed with the sun, who now appears as a minute, ghostly figurine in the upper right-hand corner of the canvas. St Thomas, not, in this instance, the doubting apostle of John 20, is rather, in Velásquez’ bold execution, a resolute preacher and fearless martyr, the folds of his yellow-ochre cloak brought into sharp focus, against an entirely naturalistic background, through the dramatic contrast of light and shade.
It is the Court paintings that most enthral. Don Caspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, formidable in bulk and intensity of gaze; Don Pedro de Barberana y Aparregui, ‘a work of such incomparable realism,’ as one critic has noted, ‘that the sensation of life emanating from the figure is actually disturbing.’ The infant heir of Philip IV and Isabella of Bourbon, playing with (and unmistakably lording it over) the court dwarf, the black and gold of his tunic, and the clean flesh tones of both faces set against the rich opulence of the deep red fabrics of the royal apartments; then Philip IV himself ‘in brown and silver,’ the embroidery of his clothing created with astonishing audacity and freedom with repeated dabs – the technique known as impasto – to convey the glint and texture of silver thread. Meanwhile, clerics and dignitaries gaze at the viewer with an impassive dignity bordering (as in the portrait of Pope Innocent X) on wickedness.
Among the most intriguing paintings in the exhibition is Philip IV Hunting Wild Boar (1636-8). Here, expectations are reversed, as Velásquez foregrounds incidental activity, creating tiny (but perfect) representations of courtiers and servants with, again, just a very few strokes of the brush. But not all is court and courtly life. A more sensual side to the artist’s nature is revealed in his only surviving female nude, The Toilet of Venus [‘The Rokeby Venus’] of 1647-51. The goddess of love reclines languidly on her bed, seemingly so relaxed as to be indifferent to her surroundings: and yet a second glance at the work reveals that, even as she looks into the mirror held in place for her by Cupid, so, reflected in the glass, she sees us, and holds each of us who look at her, firmly in her gaze.
What makes this collection so important, and such a treat? Two things, perhaps. First, the sheer relish with which Velásquez gets to work in paint and the medium of painting: a ‘painter’s painter,’ as he has been called. And, second, the enormous personal dignity which he accords to each of his subjects, regal or common, courtly or mythic. Perhaps this is never more true than with the Habsburg women, the young Infanta Maria Teresa somehow managing, while almost trapped amidst her skirts and finery, to appear both sophisticated and vulnerable.
This is a small exhibition – only some 46 paintings. An hour-and-a-half in the post-Christmas break will not be better spent than handing over £12 to see it.
DAVID HOCKNEY: PORTRAITS
National Portrait Gallery
12 October – 23 January Admission £9; concessions £6
David Hockney is a great portrait painter. He makes you feel as though you know the sitters’ characters, or want to know more about them, to see if the reality squares up to the reading of the artist; and some make you certain that you never want to encounter them beyond the confines of the canvas. Because Hockney paints his friends and takes relatively few commissions, there are not many in that category. But his portraits of those friends are not always sparing.
Because he paints friends, and paints them frequently even on a death-bed (there is a touching and moving sketch of the dying Henry Geldhager) it is possible to follow the process both of ageing and of psychological insight of the artist. One of the great portraits of the late twentieth century is Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. I saw it when first exhibited more than thirty years ago and found then its cool tranquillity, steady gaze, studied casual grace of both the sitters, and the cat Percy mesmeric. It retains its fascination, although the colours are more muted than my memory had them. Someone has rightly observed that it is a modern rendition of the Arnolfni portrait and it does have that poise and distance, a detachment, not merely between the figures of Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell in the portrait, but between them and the viewer. Perhaps there is some prefiguring of their separation and Clark’s somewhat haphazard existence before his death. His Byronic glare is also evident in a slightly later portrait of him and it would have been good had Hockney painted as many portraits of him as he did of Celia Birtwell.
Birtwell features often. She is astonishingly beautiful, wistful, serene, often captured with the merest line of paint or pencil; she floats through the pictures. There are two or three exquisite water-colours, as delicate in execution as ethereal. She appears with her sons and with the cat Percy in one of the series of photomontages that occupied Hockney for a period. He took a huge number of colour Polaroid photographs and cut them, artfully enough, and arranged them. At times the dislocations are evocative and illuminating; at others they seem a triumph of style over substance. The montage of two friends and his mother playing Scrabble is a case in point. The friends are prosaic and uninteresting but the study of his mother is vivid in its concentration and gentle gaze.
The series of portraits of his parents, especially of his mother, would be, for many artists, accomplishment enough over a lifetime. It is a remarkably intimate and affectionate series of studies and it is accomplished in his latest self-portrait where he looks exactly like his father. Similarly there is a series of those with whom Hockney has lived, and those of both Peter Schlesinger and John Fitzgerald are particularly striking in their mood and their sympathy. One of the latter is a vivid and charged portrait in blue, full of life and animation. There is a subtle and gentle pencil sketch of the former sleeping which shows Hockney’s immense technical skill and unerring eye.
There are some rough edges to some of the paintings. The marvellously formal portrait of the American art collectors, Fred and Marcia Weisman, in the garden of their Californian mansion amid their statuary, she like an Easter Island statue herself, has flesh-coloured paint dripping from his hand down his suit trousers. At first glance this looks to be a mistake, careless and distracting. But there is nothing without purpose and this spontaneous, natural flow of paint undermines the formality, the rigidity of the characters, and introduces a sense of unease and dislocation. It is a master stroke.
There are so many delights in this exhibition: a twinkling Alan Bennett, a stern Christopher Isherwood, double portraits of recent vintage, striking and bold full-length portraits even more recent. There are beautiful touches: he paints flowers, especially tulips, perfectly. See the portrait of Sir David Webster (a rare commission) for the perfectly poised setting of sitter and flowers. If the Rake’s Progress series does not work for me, nor the Picasso period, there are vast and overwhelming compensations full of vitality and animation. It is a magnificent achievement for Gallery and artist.
TIMES AND SEASONS
Common Worship CHP, 680pp, hbk 0 7151 2112 X, £30
Historians will enjoy discussing the paradox of Common Worship. Just as the evangelical party reached its zenith – with ‘fresh expressions’ and informal services and ministers in jeans and trainers – the liturgy of the Church finally succumbed to what the late Michael Vasey used to call ‘a Laudian takeover.’ The new Archbishop Laud, of course, was David Stanclife, Bishop of Salisbury and demiurge of a new Use of Sarum. The Liturgical Commission, under his chairmanship, produced an abundance of new material, some of it shiny, much of it workmanlike, of which Times and Seasons is more or less the last flowering. To declare an interest, I myself was on the Commission from 1995-2000 and a Consultant from 2000-05:1 was not, however, part of the working group that produced Times and Seasons.
CofE liturgy comes in different layers. At the base there is what is ‘authorised’ under Canons B1 and B2 – roughly, Prayer Book material and alternatives to it. Over and above that there is what Canon B4 describes as ‘approved by the Convocations, Archbishops or Ordinary for use on certain occasions’; for instance, a Remembrance Sunday order. Finally there is material commended by the House of Bishops under Canon B5 for use at ‘the discretion of the minister in conduct of public prayer.’ In the midst of this ‘B5 material,’ like benign landmines, are various ‘B2′ items – forms of confession, affirmations of faith, Eucharistic prayers (though not their prefaces) – which must be included on certain occasions and in the right form.
There are those who think that the Liturgical Commission should have left the whole B5 area to private enterprise, not least because the amount of this material, together with the range of alternatives and the subtle differences between what is ‘authorised’ and what is merely ‘commended,’ conspire to create the feeling that anything goes. Solemn Vespers and
Benediction, following the Roman Rite, is arguably an acceptable version of A Service of the Word’ and fulfils the statutory requirement for Sunday Evening Prayer under Canon B1 1 – provided that, at some other point in the day, for instance at Mass, authorised forms of Prayers of Penitence and Affirmation of Faith have been used.
The context for Times and Seasons, then, is one of virtual deregulation, and its services, though privileged by being in an official publication, are simply resources on offer. Something of this is shown in the way that ‘coaching notes’ are blended into rubrics. Examples of coachbrics’ are ‘Insertions should be brief [Prayers of Intercession at Christmas, p.81], when there is no doubt a danger of the mince pies going cold, and A joyful fanfare may be played, bells rung, cymbals clashed, noise made’ [before the Gloria at the Easter Vigil, p.338]. But was there ever so banal a rubric as ‘noise made’?
Equally helpful, if unlovely, are the address-book-style codes on the top right-hand page throughout. It takes a while to discover that EpU [pp.l39f] is ‘Seasonal material connected with the Theme of Unity’ and EpM [pp.l49f] ‘the Theme of Mission.’ The New Directions reader will readily guess ‘CC but what about ‘CE,’ ‘DF,’ ‘BS’ and Asa’? To be fair, the principal user of Times and Seasons will be the minister: congregations will continue to use purpose-made booklets or look up at overhead projections.
Critics of contemporary religious language will find phrases to lampoon: one of the openings to the Carol Service, T welcome you, on behalf of…’ [p.89], surely misses the opportunity to say liturgically where the lavatories are. Then there is the Stations of the Cross prayer to Jesus who ‘entered the bleakest of all circumstances’ [p.251]. Sounds like the lavatories again.
For the most part, however, the language is felicitous, with imagery and phrases derived from Scripture. Here, amidst the inevitable committee prose, is an anthology of the best from several sources: Milner Whites Bidding Prayer for Kings College, Cambridge [p.88]; Gregory Jenks’ modern variant of the Exsultet [p.416]; the pick of the reformed prayer books and of the work of such wordsmiths as Michael Perham, and David Stanclife.
A comparison with the relevant parts of The Promise of His Glory (1991) reveals that there is perhaps less whimsy than hitherto but the problematic service for the Baptism of Christ remains [pp.186f ]. Gifs are taken to the crib, a flagon of wine to the holy table and water to the font. The Notes tell us that the gifs ‘may be any one or all three of the traditional gifs’; the wine may be that to be used for ‘celebrations of Holy Communion during the year.’ The water is the dynamic gif: it is blessed as if for Baptism and then sprinkled over the people or placed in vessels by the door or ‘poured out over the threshold.’ All of this is a bit too much like the various diocesan induction rites where Bibles and buns, ewers and flagon, bells and
keys are used to symbolize activities that are neither taking place nor about to take place. Here, it seems, is a Protestant Church grappling with, and failing to understand, sacraments and symbols.
In the end what we have is another set of enriching resources. Just as Lent, Holy Week, Easter (1986) offered many liturgical texts better than those upon which it was based, so Times and Seasons gives us a welcome update. The Western Rite continues to offer almost everything one would want to do in Church, but the Church of England, with nearly five hundred years’ experience of vernacular liturgy, when it is not being doctrinally equivocal, continues to offer handsome ways of putting what we do into words.
Bishop Andrew Burnham
TAKING THE LONG VIEW
CHP, 324pp, hbk 0 7151 4098 1, £22-50
Colin Buchanan tells us he was greatly moved as an undergraduate by listening to Trevor Huddleston. Buchanan writes of Huddleston that he never encountered someone so like John the Baptist. There is something of that same prophetic quality about Buchanan. Most of us prefer the prophets when they are decrying against our favourite targets. My reaction to Buchanan’s book is no exception to this rule. Buchanan gives us a forthright account of how he has seen the Church of England handling its business through the General Synod over some forty years and of where and how he has sought to shape the outcome of such a process. Where I judge him right, I find myself wanting to cheer him on. Where I judge him wrong, I find myself seething. This makes Buchanan’s account of his many years in General Synod an engaging read for anyone who feels passionately about the life and mission of the Church of England.
His case for disestablishment without, at the same time, withdrawing from commitment to the life of the nation, is boldly put. The inadequate attempts by others to engage properly with his arguments are well covered, not least because Buchanan often shows a propensity to laugh at himself as he tells the story. He helped lead a determined campaign for elections, both in church and secular politics, to be conducted by single transferable vote. His argument is compelling. It could usefully be read by apologists for such a change, seeking a better vindication for their argument, as well as by those doubters who are not exactly sure as to what are the real issues at stake. His case against the present method of appointing diocesan bishops strikes this reviewer as unanswerable. The answers that Buchanan records as offered to him across the years only serve to add to the sometimes near farcical proceedings that he somewhat impishly outlines for us.
There is a passionate and moving account of Buchanan’s commitment to racial justice. The Committee for Black Anglican Concerns, subsequently renamed the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns, had his enthusiastic interest and support. It is mind-boggling to learn that such a significant Bishop as Wilfrid Wood once came near to calling for a complete secession of black Anglicans from the Church of England following what he perceived as General Synod’s shabby treatment of ethnic minority Anglicans in the 1980s.
Buchanan’s account of Anglican-Methodist relationships is generally well balanced. It offers us a firsthand account of a prominent Evangelical’s reasons for opposing the ill-fated scheme of the 1960s and 1970s. Buchanan offers a wry comment on the 2002 debate on the proposed covenant with the Methodists. He writes, ‘The chair called a succession of Anglo-Catholics, who each said (very nearly in these words) that a covenant which involved no change was fine, but they could not promise future approval if the covenant did get some content.’ How right he is, even if he does mischievously overstate the case. He might even help many Anglo-Catholics as well as other Christians to understand why some of us were able to give the proposed covenant the support that we did!
By contrast the account given of the debates leading towards the eventual decision to open priests’ orders to women is much less satisfactory. It just is not true that the argument that the Church of England has no authority for making such an innovation is a relatively newcomer on the scene. It has been around for years and, at one stage, even generated a reply in the magazine Theology from a distinguished Archbishop of Brisbane. Likewise, while the perspective for addressing the history of liturgical revision is necessarily that of an Evangelical, the comments sound particularly partisan. The use of oil in Christian initiation might not have scriptural warrant. It does, nevertheless, have a long history in such rites. That is not the case, I might add, with the convocation robes that I happily wear when my Evangelical friends insist upon their usage at confirmation services.
Buchanan’s treatment of ARCIC helps us in understanding Evangelical fears. It also sadly shows little evidence of being able to look at what is precious in a tradition so different from his own and so possibly able to enrich it. This is particularly true in the treatment given to Catholic understanding of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The continual refrain that if Buchanan believed such and such a thing then he would not hesitate to become a Roman Catholic only serves to make those of us who both remain faithful Anglicans and believe what he so firmly rejects, feel misunderstood and unwanted. That is a pity, not least because anyone who knows Buchanan will have experienced his personal warmth towards those who stand different traditions from his own.
There is one aspect of General Synod life about which we would like to know more. Mrs Thatcher was renowned for asking the government what it was going to do about something manifestly wrong, even when she was the prime minister. Buchanan was for many years a member of the House of Bishops, yet his book often reads as a continuous attempt to bring that House to heel. That, indeed, is what many bishops find so unpleasant about the General Synod. It would have been good to have Buchanan’s take on how, as it were, he managed to be such an active backbencher and a member of the government at the same time. But there we tread on a particular doctrine of episcopacy and of the General Synod that is implicit in much of the book.
There are some irritating errors. Does Buchanan not know that Graham Leonard is already a Monsignor and that recent gossip was about the possibility of him being awarded a red hat? Was not the final Eucharist at the 1998 Lambeth Conference celebrated in the main hall of the campus rather than involving a return trip to the Cathedral? What a shame, too, that the useful footnotes do not always correspond to the numbers given in the text. All that said, this is an excellent read. Written somewhat in the style of a newspaper journalist, this book offers excellent entertainment and much provocation to accompany the reader through the post-Christmas holiday.
Bishop Martyn Jarrett
Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda
Harper Press, 576pp, hbk 0 00 719574 5, £25
One of the challenging arguments in this provocative, potent and trenchant book is that religion has been central to the cultural and the political history of the twentieth century and continues to be in the twenty-first. It has been an article of the contemporary Christian critique of society that the West, at least, has witnessed a downward spiral of secularity: that the main subversion of Christian values which have hitherto underpinned western civilisation has come from the secularization of states and societies. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken with immense eloquence and force of this perceived tendency. Others of us have rather lazily used it as shorthand in our analysis and critique of an uncongenial culture and political landscape.
It is a paradox of the age that the more popular history, the less it seems that we have any sense of our past. Although not alone in its lack of historical perspective, this government must bear some of the responsibility. It is as if, in some grotesque echo of the French Revolution, 1997 was Year One of the age that ‘could only get better.’ The Christian Religion rooted in history, incarnated in history, is caught up in this disdain infected by the spurious authority accorded the Enlightenment.
Liberal elites spout the language of tolerance, of human rights, of equality, of multi-faith societies, of ethnic diversity. But, as Professor Burleigh points out, these tin-pot liberal theorists and commentators, who think they have invented these concepts, are ‘unaware of the extent to which these are products of a deeper Christian culture based on ideas and structures that are so deeply entrenched that most of us are hardly aware of them.’ Slip-shod liberal thinking resulted in the grotesque omission of any reference to Europe’s Christian roots, never mind its present reality, in the draft of the European Union Constitution in 2004. Ferocious protests wrung a pathetic concession from the authors.
This is the second volume in Professor Burleigh’s survey and it is as magisterial as the first, Earthly Powers (welcomed in these pages a year ago). Here is an historian who has takes religion seriously and who writes about it with authority and persuasive sympathy. He understands the power of ritual and symbol, about the instinctive liturgical subconscious in men and women. How else can we explain the need of people to create road-side shrines to those killed in accidents, or put flowers and scarves on the gates of football clubs after the death of a player, or the remarkable outpouring of hysterical sentimentality after the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when this instinct reached its disconcerting apogee?
We may not like that overt sentimentalization of death but it springs from a natural liturgical instinct. He knows how those instincts can be used and manipulated to perverted ends. The Nuremberg rallies and assorted Nazi ceremonial, as well as some of the cadences of Hitler’s rhetoric (he often incorporated Christian texts into his speeches) and the cult of Stalin, were designed to incorporate, and thereby to subvert, the religious impulse of man. Professor Burleigh quotes Hitler (a lapsed Catholic if ever there was one) as saying to the bishops of Osnabruck and Breslau in 1933, ‘I am personally convinced of the great power and deep significance of Christianity.’ In the course of his writing about Nazi Germany, Professor Burleigh provides the best articulation and defence of the role of Pope Pius XII, so grossly traduced by Communists and fellow-travellers, that I have read.
There is no ignoble course to which man will stoop that will not attract its defenders. Western society is replete with those who will explain and explain away ‘murderous assaults on its values.’ But Professor Burleigh rightly forces us to confront evil as an endemic presence in our human affairs. He writes vividly about ‘the day that changed the world,’ 11 September 2001, and provides a most useful potted history of Al Qaeda. The rise of militant Islam is a direct challenge not to a liberal and effete Western secular culture but to the Christian soul of Europe.
The captions to several of the well-chosen and representative photographs give some flavour of both the style and the content of the book. Against a still from That Was The Week That Was: ‘Sniggering at any form of authority was one of the cultural trends of Britain during the Swinging Sixties.’ Against a photograph of the 1968 student riots in Paris: ‘During the 1960s rioting students were briefly in the vanguard representing various sacred causes, few of which were shared by the majority of their tax-paying fellow countrymen, who mysteriously felt no enthusiasm for Mao’s Little Red Book’ The terror campaign in Northern Ireland is summed up in the captions to two photographs. One of an IRA funeral says, ‘Ireland’s matriarchal culture played a key role in keeping the sentimental flames of Republican nostalgia alive throughout the Troubles. Funerals were one of the central features of this sinister cult.’ One of a protestant banner reads, ‘The world marvelled as the ancient right to march to an ugly protestant church at Drumcree was aggressively asserted.’ Similar nuggets are embedded in the text.
No review of modest length can do justice to the scope, the broad canvas and the grand sweep of Professor Burleigh’s work. The price is a mere bagatelle for such constant enjoyment, such exuberance, such sobering realisations, such understanding, such humanity.
SIR NINIAN COMPER
Anthony Symondson and Stephen Bucknall
Spire Books, 336pp, pbk 1904965 113, £20
SIX HUNDRED NEW CHURCHES
The Church Building Commission 1818-1856
M.H. Port Spire Books, 386pp, hbk
1 904965 08 3, £49-95
STAFFORDSHIRE AND THE GOTHIC REVIVAL
Michael J. Fisher
Landmark Publishing, 160pp, pbk 1 843062 21 6, £16-99
The recent celebration of the centenary of Sir John Betjeman was a welcome reminder not only of what a good poet he was but how significant a figure he was in our awareness and appreciation of church architecture. One of his favourite architects was Sir Ninian Comper. He championed and praised Comper’s work and it formed part (but only a part) of his running battle with Sir Nikolaus Pevsner. The mighty compilation of the Buildings of England and its technical descriptions is marred for some of us by his constant disparagement of Comper’s work. One of the few of his buildings which Pevsner praises is the church of St Mary’s, Wellingborough, his crowning achievement and triumph, unless that is St Cyprian’s, Clarence Gate.
It is Wellingborough in all its glory that adorns the cover of Sir Ninian Comper by
Anthony Symondson and Stephen Bucknall in the only colour illustration in the book. This is, of course, entirely understandable given the cost of colour reproduction but it is still a pity and might have been a limitation had the black and white photographs not have been of such excellent quality and so lavishly provided.
Many years ago, when I was first taken to St Mary’s Wellingborough, I was told that I would gasp with delight at the (unfinished) interior and I did. It is now my unspeakable privilege to walk every morning of my working life into the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of Pusey House and to see the magnificent canopy over the golden altar, to say the Office and, in my turn, to offer Mass on that altar under that canopy.
Aficionados of Comper have long awaited Fr Symondson’s biography of Comper. This is not it; that treat lies in store; but it is highly satisfying to be going on with. It is an extended gazetteer of Comper’s work. Stephen Bucknall supplies the exhaustive and meticulous listing of Comper’s work, great and small, and duly notes where some of it no longer exists as a result of German bombs or cultural vandalism. Fr Symondson supplies two first-rate essays; one on Comper’s life and work, and one on John Betjeman, John Piper and Sir Ninian Comper: Of the Atmosphere of a Church in context.
Comper’s influential pamphlet Of the Atmosphere of a Church has long been difficult to obtain, but here it is reprinted and made easily accessible. It is a joy to read. In the course of his first essay, Fr Symondson offers detailed descriptions of Comper’s work on major commissions. They are always illuminating. There was some frustration at the lack of foot- or end-notes, but this is explained by Trevor Cooper, the Chairman of the Council of the Ecclesiological Society, who with Spire Books are the progenitors of this book, when he tells us that references were omitted as this work foreshadows the full biography. This is understandable but makes us all the more eager for the finished product: let it not be too long delayed. Meanwhile we have this entirely splendid volume. It is beautifully produced, scholarly, readable, accessible and brings back to our attention in the most satisfying way one of the great heroes of the Catholic Revival whose work in stone and glass and iron and bronze speaks of the majesty and the glory of God.
Michael Fisher has carved himself a niche in studies of Pugin in Staffordshire. In 1995 he published an excellent and vividly colourful portrait on Pugin and St Giles, Cheadle, that stunning, breathtaking, harmonious symphony of colour, space and form. He has now reconsidered and reworked that book in the light of subsequent scholarship and insights and extended his coverage of his native county to write now on the Gothic Revival in Staffordshire. It is a highly accomplished and generously illustrated local study. Those words ‘local study’ can sometimes sound the death-knell to serious work and be little more than the effusions of an enthusiast. This book is a local study in the best sense. It describes a national architectural phenomenon by the examples in a given locality and offers case-studies of St Mary’s, Stafford (George Gilbert Scott), St Giles, Cheadle (Pugin), All Saints, Den-stone (George Street), The Holy Angels, Hoar Cross (Bodley) and All Saints, Leek (Norman Shaw); and what riches there are.
The personal and artistic background is integrated with sympathetic descriptions of the churches and with well-judged illustrations; not least the author’s own accomplished drawings. Of the churches he writes about, I know St Giles, Cheadle and The Holy Angels, Hoar Cross. He brings them back vividly to mind and adds details and insights that make me want to go back to them and explore them again. He also puts them into their local context and tells much of interest about those who built them and those who paid for them. His comments on the other churches in the book, perform the perfect function of the learned enthusiast and make me want to go and look at them and to visit a county that seems much neglected and under-appreciated.
Michael Port’s book on the Church Building Commission 1818-1856 was first published nearly twenty years ago. This second edition sees the text amended to take account of material subsequently published and to signal something of a change in perception and sensibility, and with the addition of many illustrations: photographs and plans in abundance. The publishers are again, as with the Comper book, Spire, and they are to be congratulated on a superb production. It has all the lavish feel of the best coffee table book combined with the academic respectability of a text originating in a thesis for an Oxford University higher degree: a BLitt, rather more prestigious than the ubiquitous doctorates of the modern educational system.
John Betjeman (it’s that man again) contributed to a re-assessment of the Commissioners’ churches which he described as dignified and coherent where they had been long considered rather dreary and formulaic. They were a noble attempt to meet the radical demographic shift that occurred in England but they came at a fallow period and just before the great revival of the nineteenth century and seemed to become rather stranded and unappreciated, certainly in comparison with the glories that came after them. But they have been unjustly neglected and this rich and detailed study goes a long way to rehabilitate them.
FIRMLY I BELIEVE
An Oxford Movement Reader
Edited by Raymond Chapman
Canterbury, 224pp, pbk I 853II 722 6, £16-99
Within the penumbra of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England, the Oxford Movement properly and strictly defend is that period between 1833 and 1845. It began, according to John Henry Newman’s persuasive chronology, with the Assize Sermon delivered by John Keble in the University Church on 14 July 1833 and ended with the conversion of Newman to Rome at Littlemore in 1845 when he was received by Blessed Dominic Barbieri. Of course, the influence of the Oxford Movement, in its different phases and guises, continued to sweep through the Church of England, and, at its combative best, still does. The influence of Newman also persists, as the number of books and studies about him and his writing shows.
The weapon employed by the Fathers of the Oxford Movement, including the triumvirate of Newman, Keble and Pusey but not restricted to them, was the Tracts for the Times. These highly influential writings, which set feathers fluttering in academic dovecotes and episcopal palaces, were effectively distributed beyond the University of Oxford and formed the intellectual backbone of the Movement.
This collection by Professor Raymond Chapman is drawn heavily, and properly, from the Tracts and brings them in selected extracts before a new audience as they are not easily obtainable nowadays beyond the confines of academic libraries. It is the latest contribution to a series by the estimable Canterbury ‘Studies in Spiritual Theology’ Already published is a collection from Michael Ramsey, and another from the works of Austin Farrer. Forthcoming are volumes on Gregory Dix, the liturgical scholar, Thomas Traherne, and ED. Maurice, the nineteenth century Christian socialist. It is an admirable enterprise. The books are short and accessible.
Professor Chapman provides a clear introduction and leads succinctly into each extract and provides an excellent assessment of the Oxford Movement, its heirs and successors. He emphasizes that the Oxford Movement was concerned not with ritual and ceremonial (that came in its wake) but with the identity and the essential nature of the Church of England. Although it was not a political movement, it was politically inspired and determined to emphasize the divine nature of the institution. They accepted Establishment but argued that the Church could not be subordinate to the state. It was not a radically innovative Movement but it was radically reactionary in that it sought restoration of vital, if hitherto neglected, truths.
He points out that the Tractarians were mostly not systematic theologians but were anxious to bring discipline and order to doctrine. Their successors were more influenced by the baroque and ultramontane aspect of Roman Catholicism in their devotions and presentation of the Mass. This caused a liturgical fissure within Anglo-Catholicism. Professor Chapman does not mention that the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy undermined the claim of the Anglo-Catholics that the Church of England was the Catholic Church in England. That issue remains unresolved. Despite the fractured nature of Catholic Anglicanism, its various contemporary expressions can look back to common roots and this book provides a welcome selection of material from the foundation documents of the Oxford Movement.