Modigliani and his models
At the Royal Academy
Modigliani was a painter of people. He did paint a few landscapes, but it is as a painter of portraits and of nudes that he is chiefly known, and that is the theme of this exhibition. His style is his own and one that is instantly recognizable. There is a sculptural quality about his portraits, with their long noses, almond-shaped eyes and a distorted lengthening of the face and body.
He was an Italian Jew, from a cultivated and reasonably prosperous family. He began to study as an artist at about the age of fourteen and worked in Venice and Florence. He moved to Paris in his early twenties to become part of the vibrant bohemian artistic life there. While remaining true to his own style of painting he was influenced by many contemporary artists, such as Cezanne, Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso and Brancusi, as well as the antiquities of Greece and Rome, and the Italian mannerist school such as the artist Parmagianino. His artistic background was wide and varied and he drew on it copiously.
Under the influence of Brancusi he abandoned painting for about three years to concentrate on sculpture. There is a limestone head in the exhibition, elegant and elongated and finished to a high degree, showing, as do some of his paintings done at this time, strong influence of African art. Not many sculptures remain from this period and it did not last long. Possibly the cost and difficulty of obtaining materials and his own fragile health brought a return to painting.
Looking at his paintings it is almost as if Modigliani lived two parallel lives. His social life was one of turbulent relationships, alcoholism and drug addiction, which weakened a physique already damaged by tuberculosis. His paintings on the other hand, have a serenity and detachment, a peacefulness and sense of eternity that seems to come from another source entirely. His nudes are joyful, luscious and erotic. Their warm flesh tones and long curved torsos are sensual and beautifully painted. They caused a sensation at the only one-man show that he put on in his lifetime – it had to be closed down.
His deteriorating health caused his friend and agent Zborowski to arrange for him to leave Paris and go to the south of France, and a room is devoted to the portraits he painted there. They are of local people and on the whole they are not named. They have been described as ‘visions of Humanity’ and it is, indeed, as if he were painting the human race rather than any specific member of it. The paintings have an eternal and monumental quality, quite different from the previous portraits, and different again from the series of paintings of his young mistress Jeanne, painted towards the end of his life.
The final room contains these portraits of Jeanne, with the single exception of a self-portrait painted at the very end of his life. This shows him at the easel, palette in hand, looking out of the picture with an almost expressionless face. He must have known that he was very ill by this time – is he recognizing that death is not far away?
The other portraits are all of Jeanne Hébuterne, the companion of his final days and the mother of his child. A gentle young woman, she was utterly devoted to him and endured the violence and distress of his increasing sickness and dislocation. The portraits are tender and beautiful, painted in elongated and fluid shapes. She is shown wrapped in a shawl, with tilted head, in a white shift, with her head on her hand, against blocks of intense colour. These portraits have a gentleness and serenity which was far removed from their tragic and turbulent day-to-day lives, culminating in both their early deaths.
Modigliani’s portraits and his paintings of nudes show clearly his response both to contemporary and antique artistic influences. His was an individual and distinctive voice in the movement now called Modern Art which flowered, especially in France, at the beginning of the 20th century.
Canaletto in venice
The Queen’s Gallery
Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh
until 7th January 2007
If you missed this wonderful collection of the drawings and paintings of Canaletto in Buckingham Palace at the beginning of the year, then a visit to Edinburgh is a must, even though you have just missed the Edinburgh Festival.
Giovanni Antonio Canal was born in Venice in 1697. He later became known as Canaletto, probably to distinguish him from his father Bernardo Canale, who was also an artist and worked as a designer and scene painter for the theatre. This proved to be an excellent training ground for the young Canaletto.
This exhibition brings together his most comprehensive set of paintings of the Grand Canal, following its progress from the lagoon to the mouth, the spectacular ‘Regatta on the Grand Canal’ and the Ascension Day festival, as well as seventy of his most beautiful drawings of Venice.
With the exception of nine years in England between 1746 and 1755, Canaletto spent his whole career working in Venice which by then was already a major tourist destination as well as an essential stop on the Grand Tour of Italy. Canaletto produced idealized paintings of its canals, palaces, churches and squares for patrons who wanted a record of the most beautiful city on earth. His drawings are works of art in their own right and, like his paintings, were executed in his studio, based either on detailed sketches or as imaginary compositions, known as capricci.
The artist’s greatest patron was Joseph Smith, a merchant banker living in Venice who became British Consul in 1744. Smith’s Palazzo on the Grand Canal was often host to the British nobility as they passed through the city, and many of Canaletto’s paintings were commissioned through him.
Smith’s finances eventually suffered through the collapse of banks in Germany and the Netherlands and he was forced to sell his collection of around 50 paintings and 150 drawings. George III bought the whole of Smith’s collection in 1762, and the Royal Collection today holds the world’s finest group of Canaletto’s works.
It is a fascinating exhibition which brings to life Canaletto’s Venice of the eighteenth century, from canal-side workshops to the bustling festivities around St Mark’s Square, all wonderfully caught by an artist used to atmosphere and movement combined with the effects of sunlight and water.
SCM, 212pp, pbk
0 334 04032 9, [£12·99]
The introduction to this book reminds us of the Eighth Commandment, that we are not to bear false witness against our neighbour. Chris Hewer obeys this injunction to the letter. The author is a convinced Christian and unable, as he says, to accept everything that is taught in Islam or to share in exactly the same way its view of the world. This makes his book all the more remarkable for the sympathetic and accessible way in which we are introduced to an understanding of Islam.
In ten lucidly written chapters we are given an account of the Moslem understanding of creation, the significance of Abraham, the Prophets and, of course, Muhammad and the Qur’an. The explanation of how Moslems view Jesus is especially helpful. There is a clear statement of the differences between the Sunni majority and the Shi’a minority. The introduction to the main groups and movements within contemporary Islam dispels the often over-simplistic view which sees all Moslems as being essentially of one mindset. The information on central beliefs, principle practices and daily lives of Moslems is a particular help to the ever-growing number of us who enjoy Moslem friends and neighbours.
Hewer’s portrayal of Islamic history is especially fascinating. It is salutary to know that the first ever university was established by Moslems in Cairo. Hewer claims that the work of Moslem scholars at Toledo in researching Greek philosophy and especially the thought of Aristotle was to have a particular influence on the Spanish Dominicans and therefore on St Thomas Aquinas. A chapter on the situation of Moslems in contemporary Europe and especially within the United Kingdom is helpful in understanding our present context.
This reader would have been helped by a more specific engagement with some of the immediate questions asked about Islam today. There is a helpful treatment, for instance, of suicide bombers and of how most Moslems would see such behaviour as contrary to the authentic Islamic tradition. Yet, we live in a world where a sixteen year old girl is hanged in Iran for sexual immorality and two young men suffer the same fate for their homosexual relationship. A fourteen year old boy in Pakistan can still be sentenced to death for blasphemy even though the sentence is not carried out. It might have been helpful for better clarity specifically to address such issues. To be fair, a careful reading of the book largely provides the answers, but it would arguably have helped some enquirers had the connections been more specifically made. In any case, many of us Christian readers would want neither to be judged by how our predecessors had addressed similar problems nor by how many on the so-called religious right would call for them to be dealt with today.
Chris Hewer has presented us with an excellent book, a must for anyone truly wanting to understand our modern world and extremely helpful to those of us who enjoy life in communities of considerable ethnic and religious mix and want to draw closer in understanding to our Moslem neighbours.
Bishop Martyn Jarrett
THE CHURCH OF MARY TUDOR
Edited by Eamon Duffy
and David Loades
Ashgate, 348pp, hbk
0 7546 3070 6, £52·99
This handsome volume is fluent and engaging church history at its best, at once meticulously researched and persuasive in its presentation of the bigger picture. David Loades’ introduction is a superb analysis of the Queen’s personal religion, with her intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament at its heart. Loades finds in Mary Tudor’s unshakeable faith in the miracle of the Mass the key both to her personality and to her policy. ‘Her bishops and Pole’s commissioners,’ he writes, ‘hammered away incessantly on a single theme: ‘…after the words of consecration spoken, what remaineth of the bread and wine?’ The answers brought death to scores of men and women. Mary could have found another way, and nether Pole nor Philip would have objected, but she would not do so because to her the denial of the corporeal presence was an unspeakable blasphemy.’ One of the first instructions in the Royal articles of March 1554 was to order the deprivation of every cleric who had married. Why? Because ‘a married priest was polluted and his sacraments consequently also polluted,’ though not necessarily invalid. For Mary, the thought that a sacrament might be both valid and polluted ‘made it all the more obnoxious.’
Yet Loades also wants us to see Queen Mary as an ‘enlightened Christian,’ a student of the Scriptures and the Fathers: a Christian humanist. Neither is the Queen an especially obedient daughter of the Holy Father. Mary’s relations with Rome are frequently strained, and it is the memory of her biological father, Henry VIII, which she constantly invokes to impress upon the people of England that she has come to restore things to the faith and order of the age of King Henry, and to set right the disasters of her brother Edward VI’s short reign.
The greater part of The Church of Mary Tudor seeks to demonstrate the vigour of the Marian regime, a vigour thwarted by the Queen’s early and untimely death. In the universities, colleges are founded: among them, St John’s in Oxford, from where Edmund Campion (St John’s only Saint) was to leave in 1569 to enter first the Catholic priesthood at Douai and soon after the Jesuit order. By the time of the Queen’s death in November 1558, Oxford in particular was outwardly reconverted to the Catholic faith, although shortage of time had prevented Catholic humanism from taking root more deeply.
John Edwards is especially good in his chapter on ‘Spanish Religious Influence in Marian England’ on the Commentaries on the Christian Catechism of the Franciscan Bartolomé Carranza, later Archbishop of Toledo, and tried by the Inquisition. Fascinatingly, Edwards asks whether Carranza and his companions had ‘some kind of blueprint in mind’ for the future of the English Church. His Catechism, steeped in Scripture and the Fathers, appears to engage with the language of the reformers in not only defending transubstantiation, but also speaking of the mystery inherent in the Sacrament, and declaring it ‘a mad presumption’ for any man to claim to understand that mystery. For Edwards, Carranza is a forefather not only of Trent, but of what he calls the Catholic ‘Long Reformation’ lasting from Trent to Vatican II.
Lucy Wooding contributes a masterly essay on ‘The Marian Restoration and the Mass.’ Under Mary, the Mass became the supreme example of religious continuity, and the chief means of celebrating, and inspiring loyalty to, the new regime. The Mass was the guarantor of social unity and cohesiveness, and of a native English Catholic culture which certainly had a place for the Pope in Rome, but did not depend on the Papacy for its authenticity: for Mary, and Marian society, the Mass was the thing, and not the Supreme Pontiff. Real Presence and the doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass could be proved from Scripture and the Fathers, and there was a move away from the pre-Reformation emphasis on bleeding Hosts and other carnal apprehensions of the Sacrament to a more austere understanding; as Thomas Watson wrote in his Holsome and Catholyke Doctrine of 1558: ‘let every man or woman when he seeth this sacrament in the Priests handes, direct the eye of his faith and hys intent, to honour onely that substaunce of Christ God and man, which he seeth not with hys bodelye eyes…and let him not fyxe his thoughte upon the visible whitenes or roundnesse of the bread…but let him intend to honour the body and blood of Christ.’
This book explicitly sets out not to be primarily concerned with the persecution of Protestants under Mary, but the last chapter, by Patrick Collinson, does look at the particular example of what went on in Kent. Collinson is uncertain whether, without Foxe and the Actes and Monuments, the memory of the Kentish martyrs would have survived at all. That there was persecution is beyond doubt. Thus we return to David Loades’ introduction, and to the question which he poses there: what turned Mary, the humane, well-read Christian, into the most ruthless persecutor in English history? It is the Mass again: as Loades writes: ‘It was not the denial of the papacy, or the English Bible, or even justification by faith which was the crime against the Holy Ghost, but the rejection of transubstantiation. Over and over again, this was the issue which sent heretics to the stake, humble and learned alike.’
It was the Mass that mattered. Of course, it still is. The Church of Mary Tudor is a thorough, convincing and always well-written account of what was; and a prompt to thinking of what might have been.
LETTER AND SPIRIT
From Written Text
to Living Word in the Liturgy
DLT, 238pp, pbk
0 232 52674 5, £10·95
Scott Hahn writes with the convert’s vigour and robustness. Readers of New Directions might be familiar with earlier books on Mary (Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God) or the Mass (The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth). Now Dr Hahn turns his attention to the relationship between the Scriptures and the Liturgy. The thesis of this (at times almost breathless) book is that ‘the Scriptures are heard rightly when they are read in the heart of the Church, and this happens at the heart of the Liturgy.’ Beginning with St Athanasius’ account of the conversion of St Anthony (in which Anthony is moved to give all that he possesses to the poor by his hearing the liturgical proclamation of Matthew 19.21), Hahn argues that it is in the public worship of the Church that the Bible is most appropriately to be read, received and interpreted: the Sitz im Leben of the greater part of Scripture, Old Testament and New, is the Liturgy.
The story of the disciples encountering the Risen Lord on the Emmaus road in Luke 24 is foundational, for, Hahn writes, ‘every eucharistic liturgy conforms to the pattern established at Emmaus: the opening of the Scriptures followed by the breaking of the bread, the liturgy of the Word followed by the liturgy of the Eucharist.’ This is not, of course, an original thought, and many priests will have preached along these lines on the Third Sunday of Easter in Year A of the 3-Year Lectionary, but Hahn unfolds the argument persuasively and in some depth.
Chapter by chapter, Hahn takes us through the Scriptures, pointing out here, demonstrating there, the liturgical nature of the texts. ‘Liturgy is the place where the Scriptures emerge into light,’ says Hahn, and, drawing on the lead of Yves Congar in Tradition and Traditions, he lists, pretty much exhaustively, all the texts in the novus ordo of the Latin rite which are direct quotations from Scripture, or clear allusions to a biblical text.
So what are we to make of all this? Of course, anyone with a catholic sensibility (and, in particular, any priest trying to instil a deeper engagement with the Liturgy in his congregation) will be putting large ticks in the margin on every page. But questions do remain when one has put the book down, content that here indeed is a lively and authentic account of the deep relationship between Scripture and the public worship of the Christian community.
Firstly, is this, in practice, what most regular attenders at the Sung Eucharist on Sundays or festivals actually experience? ‘The Mass,’ Hahn writes, ‘is the place par excellence of the Scriptures’ faithful reception.’ Indeed so; but for this to be not only an accurate but a meaningful assertion, the actual celebration of the liturgy in the parish must be conducive to making it so. Now that fortnightly, or monthly, rather than weekly, Sunday attendance has become normal and acceptable, here is a challenging agenda. If priests cannot compel their people to come every week, then they can at least ensure that when they do come, the organic link between Scripture and liturgy is not interrupted by too many special services – for the Sea Scouts, the homeless, the diocese overseas twinned with their own, and so on. Praiseworthy as each of these might be, taken to excess they destroy any sense of the givenness of the rhythms of liturgical life which are so essential to giving Hahn’s thesis cash value in the experience of ordinary Christians.
The second question is to do with other contexts for reading and hearing the Scriptures. The Mass might be the ‘place par excellence,’ but what about the Office? What about services of the Word (whether or not concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament), especially as a tool for mission? What about the private, meditative attention to the Scriptures which is surely still to be commended as an essential ingredient in any Christian’s rule of life? There is much more to be said about each of these ways into engaging with the Bible and meeting God in his (written) Word.
Like the best of us in our own writing and preaching, Hahn is addressing himself as much as his readership, and his most receptive audience might well consist of those who – like Hahn himself – have made the pilgrimage from Protestantism to Catholicism. But anyone concerned to open up the Scriptures through a deeper understanding of their liturgical origins, and thereby gain a richer appreciation of the Liturgy itself, will benefit from reading this book.
Making Sense of Generation Y
Sara Savage et al.
CHP, 208pp, pbk
0 7151 4051 5, £12·99
I was brought up never to start a conversation with a question. That is advice that Jesus wilfully ignored. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Do you want to be well?’ What things are you discussing as you walk along?’ Jesus knew what we so often forget which is that all effective mission begins with listening. We cannot answer people’s questions until we have listened to find out what those questions are.
Making Sense of Generation Y is a fascinating exercise in listening. However, while it is a book which should be read by anyone who ministers to young people or young adults, it should also be issued with two health warnings.
The question on your mind at the moment might be, ‘What on earth is Generation Y?’ and indeed this book should not be tackled by those with jargon allergy! (It is a strange phenomenon that at a time when the church appears to have lost confidence in its own technical language it is so beguiled by that of others.) The simple answer is people aged between 15 and 25. They are the technological generation, the children for whom Margaret Thatcher is history, the age-group who are well used to a global culture. They are also the generation which does not come to church.
Their research method is to arrive at an understanding of the world view of Generation Y through popular culture. Using ‘included’ young people as opposed to the poor or marginalized, they engaged carefully selected participants in conversations on film and soap opera, music and clubbing, advertising images and cultural icons. They sought to use the culture to find young people’s answers to the big questions: Who am I? Where am I? What is wrong with the world? What is the solution?
The results are completely fascinating and profoundly unnerving. The authors talk about a ‘happy midi-narrative’ [see ND July p.6 for a fuller explanation] which describes the outlook of a sociable, outgoing generation who simply don’t seem to feel the need for a grand story with which to make sense of their lives. What matters is to be happy. Happiness is their driving ethic and the goal of life. The world is basically benign and friendly, and happiness can be achieved in this life through strong family and good groups of friends.
Most alarmingly the authors could find no evidence of a spiritual quest in the lives of the young people with whom they engaged. The rationale of most modern youth ministry is that all young people have a ‘God-shaped’ hole in their lives. They may have rejected institutional religion, but they are still interested in the spiritual. But this piece of research can find no place for God or for any kind of transformational spirituality in the mindset of the Generation Y. Religion is a matter of total indifference, to be tolerated amongst those for whom it is ‘their kind of thing’. Jasmin Aregger (aged 17) rather sums it up: ‘I don’t believe in God and I don’t live according to any religious rules. Religion is a waste of time. I don’t believe in a life after death, so for me happiness is more important.’
There are doubtless some important observations in this book. It makes clear the considerable challenges of working with young people in modern Western culture. But at the same time it is a book which needs to be treated with great care.
My fear is that the restricted nature of the questioning has brought the authors to conclusions that only tell us part of the story. Why not ask young people about family, or birth and death, or justice, or animal welfare? These issues are just as much if not more a part of young people’s lives than clubbing and TV, and I would be surprised if they did not lead to much broader and more spiritually alert discussion. Many young people feel imprisoned by the popular culture.
My second reservation springs from the recommendations that the authors make to the wider church as a result of their work. Their main idea is something that they describe as ‘prior mission’. I found it hard to come to terms with what this actually means, but it appears to have something to do with focussing on ‘what young people want to become rather than what they should be doing.’ We need to be starting ‘further back’ in our youth outreach work. We need to use every means available to connect with young people, making the most of church schools, historic building and alternative worship.
But ultimately one cannot escape the impression that the authors (who clearly did not find what they expected to find from their research) do not know quite what to recommend. The abiding impression they give is that working with this age group is so complicated that you need to be jolly clever to do it! If you are looking for encouragement, tips and ideas on how to get some youth work up and running, don’t look in this direction. You’ll just end up too terrified to do anything.
And perhaps this brings us to the big problem. The whole language of ‘Generation’ makes this age group sound like some sort of breed apart whom we observe from a distance as we might tigers in the zoo. Jesus used questions to form relationships not with generations but with individuals. When we try and talk to a ‘generation’ we get nowhere. When we deal with individuals to form trusting relationships, then we can engage. That’s where we can enter into conversations about what happiness might really mean, and that’s where we can capture the imagination of young minds with the Gospel. Sociology is interesting, but it is no substitute for relationship.
Fr Philip North is Priest Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
SHY BUT NOT RETIRING
(Edited by Jeremy Haselock)
Continuum, 285pp, hbk
0 826 48073 X, £25
Cute though the title of Dr Kemp’s autobiography undoubtedly is, it is not true. Shy he may well be but he has retired. There were some who hoped that he would continue to occupy the See of Chichester much longer as an eloquent rebuke and reproach to the prevailing spirit of the times and not least in the Church.
Dr Kemp has had a long career and has written quite a long book. It has been edited for publication by Canon Jeremy Haselock. Undeniably, it has immense charm. If at times it is the charm of Mr Pooter, it is nonetheless charming. Sadly, the reflections do not run deep, the character sketches are often affectionate, like those of Freddy Hood and Arthur Couratin, but can feel slightly underpowered and un-illuminating, none of the personalities, and there are some strong, noble, dangerously odd personalities in the book, ever come fully and engagingly to life. The prose is lucid, laconic and deadpan. At best he is splendidly mordant: ‘I did not come back from West Africa filled with any great enthusiasm for the work of the Anglican Communion overseas, and this feeling was not greatly changed later that year by my first experience of a Lambeth Conference…I cannot say that I enjoyed any of the Lambeth conferences nor do I think they did much good.’ Bravo. Perhaps Dr Williams can save himself a great deal of heartache and us much money by cancelling the next shindig.
At worst, however, he tells us about banking with the Midland, that Lincolnshire is a very large county, and introduces one of his greatest friends with the words ‘I was able to resume my friendship with Richard Southern, now…married to a woman named Sheila.’ Extraordinary. There is also too much telling us that he cannot now remember certain incidents or people. That he does not remember is fair enough, but by telling us so frequently we feel somewhat cheated of the whole story. This sense of incompleteness is further exacerbated when, for example, he tells us that he regretted the circumstances of a headmaster leaving one public school for another but does not tell us the circumstances. As it happens, they were entirely proper but by being so inexact there is a degree of ambiguity, if not suspicion.
Those of generous disposition might describe some of these passages as allusive; others might find them frustratingly fragmentary. Dr Kemp’s memory slips from time to time. He was present but did not preside, as he avers, at Christ Our Future in 2000; that was Dr Hope, then at York. At other times his style invokes a sense of pathos. Recording the occasion when he kissed hands as Bishop of Chichester, he records: ‘That was the only conversation I have ever had with [the Queen]…as unlike most bishops, I have never been invited to preach at Sandringham.’ Ouch.
St Luke’s, Southampton, Pusey House, Exeter College, Worcester Cathedral, Chichester is a distinguished role-call and when you add the societies and organizations with which he has been long associated his career spans the history of Anglican Catholicism for most of the twentieth century. Longevity lends enchantment. Survival into old age provokes sentimental admiration. There are no doubt real and significant achievements to be set against Dr Kemp’s name. He has generated much love and affection, loyalty and admiration. He was faithful to Derek Allen when it was felt that a firmer hand was needed to guide St Stephen’s House, and helped to secure a parish appointment for him a little time after his departure. That he found a job for his erstwhile Exeter pupil, Brian Brindley, after his indiscretion and fall from grace was wholly admirable. And there were many other acts of charity and kindness, hidden from view as is proper in a priest, for which he will be accounted worthy. His judgement must be called into question, however, in his appointment of Cheslyn Jones to Pusey House which he almost brought to its knees and extinction, and from whom it has taken over twenty years to recover. Dr Kemp is wrong to suggest that Barry Marshall was appointed to succeed Jones; rather it was Marshall’s premature death (changing a light bulb on the staircase to the library, not in the chapel as he states) in 1970 that led to Jones’ fatal appointment.
Look also at the present position of the Church Union, no longer the power that it once was, and although that cannot be laid entirely at his door, his long period in charge did not leave it in a strong enough position to withstand later problems. Après lui, le déluge. These, and similar issues relating to Chichester Theological College, do not receive sufficient treatment and leave a feeling of dissatisfaction. This is a pity because there is enough sharp comment and veiled reservations to whet the appetite for a less circumscribed memoir.
Never let it be said, however, that Dr Kemp is without a sense of humour, dry as dust though it may be. Who else would have had the courage and the wit to appoint Bishop Lindsay Urwin and Bishop Wallace Benn as his suffragans? During his time as Chaplain at Exeter College the appointment of a taciturn academic colleague to another college chaplaincy elicited the comment that he did not know why the appointment had been made as ‘he had no small talk.’ He publishes in an Appendix the Protocol drawn up after his consecration to indicate that he had ‘the Dutch Touch’ from the Old Catholics (to whom he devotes an interesting chapter) in Latin which is a magnificent rebuke to the times, but might not the current bench of bishops have benefited from reading it in translation?
The picture of Dr Kemp with Freddy Hood and Tom Parker does not identify Leslie Cross, the fourth member of the Chapter. None of the copyright holders of the illustrations is acknowledged or thanked. The frustrating lack of an index is to be regretted and deprecated.
Prayers and reflections
using the words of Julian of Norwich
Penny Roker rsm
Canterbury, 120pp, pbk
1 85311 733 1, £8·99
Church bookshops are overfull of nice books by nice women on that super-nice woman Julian of Norwich, fourteenth century anchoress, spiritual writer and icon of feminist theologians. Now it happens that I am a nasty old man who first read Julian decades ago when her Revelations of Divine Love was only available in Penguin Classics, and the only option was to read what she herself wrote. Powerful and challenging it was too.
Now that her work has been retitled Showings and her more feminist canticles included in Common Worship, I have rather gone off her. She has become a teacher into whom far more is read than ever she could herself have imagined or intended. For every book containing her unabridged text, there are a hundred built around short excerpts. This is one such. I opened it at ‘Sharing Julian’s experience. Break a piece of old crockery into fragments…throw away a piece or two so that it is beyond mending. As a focus of prayer place the pieces around a crucifix and sit with it for a while. Call to mind…’
Lala land? And there is more of the same. And yet. Despite myself I could not help warming to Sister Penny. She writes with a simplicity, clarity and conviction that spoke to me despite myself. This is not how I wish to lead my own spiritual life, but if you are of the contemporary, do-it-yourself, touchy-feely school I suspect this collection of prayers, exercises and poems, inspired by Julian, will be a good and trustworthy guide.
LETTERS FROM OXFORD
Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson
Edited by Richard Davenport-Hines
Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 326pp, hbk
0 297 85084 9, £20
Commenting on seventeenth century historiography, my tutor said that it was sad and troubling that the Marxist historian and Master of Balliol Christopher Hill was such a nice man but wrong, whereas the Regius Professor of Modern History, Hugh Trevor-Roper, was a very unpleasant man but right: only my tutor used a shorter, sharper epithet from which I shield the delicate sensibilities of ND readers. This book proves the point.
It is a one-sided correspondence between Trevor-Roper and the art critic and connoisseur Bernard Berenson; one-sided because Berenson’s letters are given only in bald summary, with a few direct quotations (and vivid they are) while Trevor-Roper’s letters are given almost in full, only omitting the elaborate final salutations.
Neither Trevor-Roper nor Berenson has had a good press of late. Towards the end of his career Trevor-Roper committed the great error of authenticating the forged diaries of Adolf Hitler. It was still such a shaming mistake that at his memorial service in Christ Church the panegyrist omitted it from his survey of his career. Berenson suffered after his death from the revelation that he had received salaries or substantial commissioners from art dealers (some of dubious reputation) for his attributions and authentications of paintings. Here Richard Davenport-Hines, the editor, makes a good case to rehabilitate Berenson and to argue that his academic integrity was unimpaired by these payments. In any event, the payments and his other wealth enabled him to live in style and luxury at his villa and to make it a centre for the entertainment of intellectuals from around the world. Trevor-Roper was a frequent visitor and introduced many others to the circle, not least Isaiah Berlin.
In the course of the correspondence, Trevor-Roper (who openly admits and relishes his malice) virtually destroys the reputation of several historians, notably Arnold Toynbee, about whose absurdly grandiose history he wrote a definitively damning review in Encounter (only long afterwards was it revealed that the magazine had been funded by the CIA as a weapon in the propaganda battle of the Cold War; that does not invalidate the rightness of Trevor-Roper’s demolition job on Toynbee), and of Lawrence Stone who was dismissed in these letters and in an important article as a ‘charlatan.’
He has a particular animus against Jesuits in particular and Catholics in general as well as the Scots. For a romantic, radical Tory gadfly, he was curiously unsympathetic to the Jacobite cause. Having been born in Northumberland, marrying an aristocratic Lowland Scot and living for many years in the Borders may have something to do with his thumping prejudices. His letters deal with his relationship with Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnson, her subsequent rather messy divorce from her first husband and their marriage. Divorce was much less prevalent and had social consequences unknown today but he seems to have manoeuvred with sufficient silken charm not to have damaged his standing or advancement.
One of the criticisms levelled against Trevor-Roper was that he never wrote the major books expected from an historian of his calibre. But his merit lay in the essay, the critical appraisal, the deployment of shock troop tactics against a particular enemy and, now we can see, in the letters which are miniature essays. The best is, ironically, not addressed to Berenson but to the American historian Wallace Notestein about Trevor-Roper’s successful campaign to elect Harold Macmillan as Chancellor of Oxford University. It is marvellously detailed and evocative of that rarefied world of academic politics and infighting. The defeat of Sir Maurice Bowra, himself a consummate University politician, is to be savoured. Elsewhere the style is ornate, artificial, carefully crafted and sculpted but very much expresses the man. There is enough snobbery and elitist haut en bas, aristocratic and intellectual disdain, sycophancy and flattery to satisfy the most crusty and reactionary reader and enrager les autres.
As but one example of his sustained abuse which makes the jaw drop in a mixture of admiration and horror, here is Trevor-Roper on C.S. Lewis: ‘a man who combines the face and figure of a hog-reeve or earthy-stopper with the mind and thought of a Desert Father of the fifth century, preoccupied with meditations of inelegant theological obscenity: a powerful mind warped by erudite philistinism, blackened by systematic bigotry, and directed by a positive detestation of such profane frivolities as art, literature and (of course) poetry: a purple-faced bachelor and misogynist, living alone in rooms of inconceivable hideousness, secretly consuming vast quantities of his favourite dish – beefsteak-and-kidney-pudding; periodically trembling at the mere apprehension of a feminine footfall; and all the while distilling his morbid and illiberal thoughts into volumes of best-selling prurient religiosity and…reactionary nihilism.’
He has an obvious and deep affection for Berenson and for his companion of his later years which may (just) excuse some of the more extreme passages and he can write touchingly as well as amusingly. Perhaps these letters are not for the faint-hearted but they are redolent of a recent time and age that is rapidly over-past: it is another world from the world of today and they did things differently there and then.
There is promise in the editor’s acknowledgements of a biography of Trevor-Roper forthcoming by Alan Sisman (a biographer of that other great contemporary Oxford historian, whom Trevor-Roper defeated for the Regius Chair, A.J.P. Taylor) so there are more disputes, enemies made and vanquished to learn about soon. Trevor-Roper is an acquired taste. However, a man who so loathed A.L. Rowse cannot have been all bad.
de Gruyter, 520pp, hbk
3 11 017993 8, [€98]
Bin men, or civic amenity refuse collection operatives, are a boon to the rest of us: there is a job to be done and, praise be, someone else to do it. Some academics fall into this category: on our behalf they clear up the mess left by other scholars.
The History of Religions School approach to the Old Testament has been instructive, stimulating and even useful in bringing out the hidden echoes in the sacred text. Few of its themes have been as persistent and unquestioned as that of chaos. Think of ancient epics such as Enuma Elish, link the three key words ‘combat,’ ‘creation’ and ‘chaos’ and if you have studied theology at A level or above, or trained for the ministry, you will easily slip back into a familiar world of ancient Near Eastern creation myths – the cosmic battle and the eventual defeat of the sea and its monsters.
Why is all this rubbish? Because it is essentially a form of eisegesis, reading into the text ideas and themes that may be true of other literatures and cultures, but for which there is wholly insufficient evidence in the Old Testament itself. This is good news for believers, Jewish or Christian: the sacred text need not be subsumed to the trivializing tendency of anthropologists, but allowed to speak for itself.
To summarize a long book, try these three principal suggestions. First, check the references carefully. Some of the key words are used in a simple, literal, non-figurative manner. For example, the Red Sea is an actual sea in a particular place, once crossed literally by the children of Israel, not the coded context of a cosmic conflict. Rahab is (more often than not) not a mythical beast but merely another name for Egypt.
Second, check the date of the text. Virtually all the figurative and metaphorical language of combat and creation is from the exilic period or later, in other words, from a time of unequivocal monotheism. The mythological language is only used when it could never be confused with nor taken to be mythological in intention.
Third, curb your imagination. Creation may indeed be the establishment of control and order where it did not previously exist, but this does not mean that the process of ordering is necessarily one of combat, still less a battle against a primordial force called ‘chaos.’
The analysis is painstaking and comprehensive; the writing, sadly, is leaden; but I remain grateful that Watson has finally killed off that mythologizing interpretation, which we always knew was wrong, but lacked the academic credentials to prove. To cite her own conclusion, ‘the term ‘chaos’ should be abandoned in respect of the Old Testament.’ Praise the Lord.