The Royal Academy of Arts 8 March-8 June 2008
Take my advice. Go to the Royal Academy, march past the people queuing for the absurd ‘From Russia’ exhibition, and stagger upstairs to the Sackler Wing, where you will find a gem of an exhibition of paintings by Lucas Cranach. Curiously, none of the people queuing for the Russians seem the least bit interested in the work of this Renaissance painter (1472-1553) who was in his mid-forties when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg.
Not that I want to make it hard work for you, but a little Reformation history will come in handy as you stroll through these five easily-digestible rooms. Luther, you see, was a mate of Cranach, and became his daughters godfather in 1520, the year Luther was condemned for heresy. Cranach was mayor of Wittenberg for a time, and witness at Luther’s wedding to a former nun in 1525. He owned an apothecary in the city (useful for making paint), and a printing press (useful for making propaganda).
He painted a number of portraits of Luther, including a particularly fine one here, dating from 1525, Luther looking strong, rugged and almost trustworthy. They have hung it next to a shiftier one from 1521 of Luther in disguise, having been given protection by Friedrich the Wise, the Elector of Saxony, who was an important patron not only of Luther, but also of Cranach and Diirer. During his time disguised as ‘Junker Georg’, he began his Protestantized translation of the New Testament into High German, for which Cranach provided woodcut engravings.
The exhibition has a copy of this ‘September Testament’ open at one of the Revelation illustrations, of which there are 21, in spite of the somewhat ambivalent attitude of the early Reformers to the Book of the Apocalypse. Cranach’s image of the destruction of Babylon clearly uses Rome as its model, and the whore of Babylon sports the triple tiara. Whilst this was not the first translation of Scripture into German, it is important to remember that it sold about 80,000 copies in the three years from 1522-5, in spite of its costing, as Luther himself pointed out, the price of a horse.
But let us return briefly to the days before Luther didn’t say ‘Here I stand, I can do no other’. When you enter this exhibition, you will see on your right a moving crucifixion scene in a slightly unfamiliar pattern, with the crosses of the two criminals facing in towards Jesus, the taunter on a black cross, the penitent thief on a white cross, so that we can almost hear the conversation that St Luke records taking place between them and the Lord. Images of the saints keep coming back: the Martyrdom of St Catherine (1505) in room 1, and again in room 2 (1515), and of St John the Baptist (also 1515), and a fabulous pair of tiny portraits of Ss Peter and Paul. In Room 2, there is a delightful Nativity scene, with half a dozen putti almost crowding the Lord out of his crib. In the light of the candle in St Joseph’s hand, we see illuminated not only his grizzly face, but also the red cloak of one of the shepherds.
We might also raise a wry smile at the main attraction of Room 2: the Torgau Altarpiece of 1509, which was commissioned by Friedrich the Wise, described in the Royal Academy magazine as a ‘Protestant’. This shows the danger of looking for clear-cut categories in the early sixteenth century. In the first place, it is anachronistic to describe anyone as a ‘Protestant’ in 1509, and furthermore, although ‘Friedrich did obstinately defend Luther against his enemies’, says Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‘he remained a traditionalist in religion, who never saw the point of Luther’s crisis of conscience’ [Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, Allen Lane, 2003].
It is worth pondering the decidedly non-biblical scene which this triptych of ‘The Holy Kinship’ portrays. There is a medieval legend that St Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin, was twice widowed and thrice married, her second and third husbands being the fathers of the ‘other’ Marys (not Magdalen) at the empty tomb. The three men stand together on a balcony, the middle figure being modelled on the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian, with Friedrich portrayed in the left-hand panel as the husband of one of the Marys. We should bear in mind that had Maximilian and his successor, Charles V, not been so tied up trying to prevent the Ottoman Empire from overrunning Christendom, they would probably have dealt with the apparently much smaller problem of Protestantism in fairly swift order.
Let us get back to the art, though. Room 3 presents us with the humour of the ill-matched couples, and the beauty of portraits of a young man and woman. Here too is a gripping painting of the Archbishop of Brandenburg, Cardinal Albrecht, who, even by 1526, clearly didn’t find Cranach too dodgy to commission; neither was Cranach too scrupulous to decline work for Luther’s great theological and political opponent. The portrait itself depicts the Cardinal as St Jerome, in the company (in his study) not only of his lion, but all manner of other wildlife.
Such beautifully painted animals come round again in the next room, in Apollo and Diana, and in that famous Adam and Eve, which you might know from the credits for ‘Desperate Housewives’. All these date from 1526, as does my favourite picture of the exhibition: David and Bathsheba, with Bathsheba fully dressed in elaborate frock and wide-brimmed hat, with only her feet naked, being bathed. This is nevertheless sufficiently stimulating to cause David, watching from the palace roof whilst nonchalantly playing his harp, to send Uriah the Hittite to his death in battle.
The larger pictures of the last room appeal less, but here too are the smaller paintings of very nearly naked female characters from classical mythology, including the Venus of 1532 which forms the exhibition’s poster, nearly deemed too risque for travellers on the London Underground. The consequences of the Reformation have remained with us in so many unexpected ways…
WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT
The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
Daniel Walker Howe
The Oxford History of the United States
OUP, 928pp, hbk
978 0 19 507894 7,£18.99
In What Hath God Wrought Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes I Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University, magisterially presents the history of the United States from the end of the War of 1812 in 1815 until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. During these thirty-eight years, the United States extended its domination over nearly the whole of what are now the forty-eight continental States of the Union, saw the rise of manhood suffrage, the expansion of its fledgling economy through industrialization and commercialization, and an explosion of new as well as a resurgence of old religious sects and movements. This work is a narrative synthesis which, ostensibly, presents little in the way of academic argument and is certainly a work accessible to a large audience. Despite outwardly appearing to prefer storytelling over argument, this work has a surprisingly academic origin. This book was never meant to be written. Oxford University Press originally commissioned Charles Sellers to write this installment of their excellent ‘History of the UnitedStates’.but the series editor, C. Vann Woodward, rejected it. Sellers’ work The Market Revolution: Jack-sonian America, 1815-1848 was published by OUP in 1991, but not as part of the series. Sellers posited that the great change in this period was a revolution from a capitalist to an agrarian society and it is against this thesis that Howes book argues. Howe argues, in contrast to Sellers, that rather than a ‘market revolution’ the key to understanding this period of American history is the evolution of transport and communication.
The importance of these changes to Howe is shown in the title What Hath God Wrought; these were the first words sent by Samuel Morse on his new telegraph machine in May 1844 and Howe’s use of them as the title for his book reflects his belief in the importance of what he calls the revolutions in transport and communication. These revolutions allowed the rise of the Democratic and the Whig parties -mass political parties which would never have existed without the ability to disseminate their propaganda around the whole of the United States – and the growth of the economy; and, as Howe presents it, they transformed American life.
Howe’s book has both narrative and thematic chapters. The narrative chapters combine lyrical prose with a keen eye for detail: the book opens with a description of the scene before the battle of New Orleans which could have been written by a great novelist, he also conveys all of the important facts about the battle, as well as describing its wider impact without killing the readers interest. Other narrative chapters lend themselves less easily to this style, but even those chapters which deal with the political (and sexual) controversies of the first Jackson administration are kept alive by the authors ability to make the mundane interesting. The thematic chapters grant the reader an informed insight into the themes which Professor Howe considers central to these years. These chapters reveal just how up-to-date with the historiography of this period the author is. He pulls no punches about the prevalence of racism in the United States at this time, and is not afraid to claim that Jacksonian democracy was founded upon a racist machismo which excluded all who were not white males. These chapters touch upon economic, social, cultural and religious themes.
Howe’s chapters on religion are particularly good. In them he discusses the second Great Awakening, the rise of new sects, the links between religion and education, moralism, science and politics. Unlike many who study these years, he even discusses American Roman Catholics within his chapters on religion, despite the fact that they were a reviled group in early nineteenth-century America. Interspersed throughout the whole book are short biographies, both of well-known figures such as Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams and Sojourner Truth, and of people who appear to be of no historical importance. These biographies are almost short character sketches and come hand in hand with famous and lesser-known vignettes, some amusing, some tragic, about the person being described.
Non-academic readers could easily be put off reading Howes work by its sheer size: it weighs in at 928 pages and 2012 footnotes (I know, I counted them), and looks as big as it is, but despite its formidable appearance, What Hath God Wrought is an easy read. The mildly interested, non-academic reader could easily skip all of the thematic chapters and still come away having read one of the best narrative works on this period. Although this period is not of general interest, it was of vital importance for the future of the United States. It was during these years that the United States secured its existence as a nation and became the most powerful nation in the Americas, which was certainly not the foregone conclusion that it may now seem.
Conversely, the expansion of the United States to the Pacific unleashed long checked tensions which would paralyze the nation for the next thirty years, and with the unleashing of these tensions came the beginning of the sectional crisis which would lead to the destruction of the nation in the Civil War. All in all, this was an era filled with interest and of great importance for the history of the United States. Daniel Walker Howe does an excellent job of telling the story of the United States through these years and his work deserves great praise and, more importantly, a wide readership.
THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER
Or the Murder at Road Hill House Kate Summerscale
Bloomsbury, 384pp, hbk 978 0 7475 8215 1, £14.99
The murder mystery, especially the country house murder mystery, is an enduring genre of English fiction. Here Kate Summerscale has written a remarkably fine book about a real murder, in a real country house (albeit domestic rather than manorial or palatial) upon which much of Victorian and modern detective fiction is based.
The murder of Saville Kent at Road Hill House in Road (now Rode) in Somerset, a little south of Bath, on 29/30 June 1860 ignited the press and the fascination of the country. From time to time certain crimes seem to grip the nation and turn us all into detectives, all with views on the suspects, the motives, the modus operandi. Charles Dickens was one such in the Road Hill House murder, but he chose the wrong culprit. They seem to encapsulate something of the state of society at any given time, where we hold ourselves up to scrutiny and analysis. This was just such a crime.
The murder of the infant son of William Kent and his second wife, Mary, was brutal and sordid. He was removed from his cot and found stuffed in an outside privy, amidst fetid detritus and effluent, with his throat cut. Although attempts had been made to suggest that the crime had been committed by an intruder, it was soon realized that the murderer was a member of the household, one of the family or one of the servants. All came under suspicion.
The local police did not act efficiently or effectively The police force was in a transitional period between an amateur, part-time constabulary and the nascent professional force that had been begun under Sir Robert Peel. In London there was a highly-regarded but small group of detectives who in these early years of professional policing had captured the public imagination, and their most distinguished member, Jack Whicher, was summoned to Road to investigate.
Within a relatively short time and with a mixture of careful observation and inspired insight, he was satisfied that he had identified the murderer, but lacked sufficient forensic evidence to bring a charge and to secure a conviction. The case was, technically, unsolved. Whicher suffered for his ‘failure’ in formal terms to solve the crime to a criminal prosecution and conviction, both professionally and in public esteem. It was only resolved towards the end of Whicher s life and in a way which reflected great credit on him and his methods of detection.
There are several things which raise this story beyond the domestic tragedy that lay at its heart. Whicher and the whole art or science of police detection in these early days was a subject of immense fascination. He attracted the attention not only of Dickens but also of Wilkie Collins, and is the basis for the detective in Bleak House (Bucket) and in The Moonstone (Sergeant Cuff) which is the first example of detective fiction in England. They were preceded by the ‘amateur detective and intellectual magician Auguste Dupin of Edgar Allan Poe. Miss Summerscale moves between the world of the real murder and the world of fiction with an assured and intelligent ease, and draws out their con-gruities and their interconnections with great skill. She is also particularly interesting on the development of the language of policing and how words that are part of our common coinage came into existence. If you want to know the origin of ‘clue’ or, indeed, ‘detective’, you will find the answer in these pages, as well as much more in the same vein.
She is also outstandingly good in her evocation of the Victorian world. It is a world that seems familiar and not too far removed from today, yet, as she shows, it is disconcertingly different. It is another world, one that is becoming increasingly removed although it still resonates. Her delineation of the family of William Kent and its tensions is full of psychological insight. He was married twice and there is a strong suspicion that he carried on an affair with the nanny of the children of his first wife before her death. He married the nanny and had two children (at the time of the murder) and there was a further suspicion that he was having an affair with the nanny of those children. He was also a suspect, mainly in the press, of the murder of his son. The hypothesis that was advanced had him in bed with the nanny when his son awoke, and killed him (or assisted the nanny to kill him) to prevent him telling his wife. He was assailed and harried in the street, so widespread and public was the suspicion.
The tensions in the household arose between the two families who lived under the same roof. His children by his first wife felt aggrieved about their changed status and resented the favoured half-siblings. Simmering, genteel resentment pervaded the house and permeated relationships. These resentments were mirrored in the locality where William Kent was not popular and these bubbling grievances, either real or imagined, informed the reaction to the murder.
The world of the domestic servants is also vividly brought to life. There were tensions within the staff and between the staff and their employers that the rigid stratification did nothing to discipline or ameliorate; rather they exacerbated them. Somewhat unusually we learn about the stories and something of the lives of the servants. There are no mere ciphers in the book. Sources, albeit fairly rudimentary, have been trawled and examined with immense care and have been brought to bear on the characters and personalities involved. These sources have yielded a rich vein because they have been approached with an imaginative intelligence, with the eye of a novelist and an acute psychological insight and understanding. Her conclusions, suppositions, guesses have been encapsulated in beautifully written prose and are utterly convincing.
The power of the press is clearly evident in these pages and it is sad to realize that little has changed: that a degree of irresponsibility by an over-mighty Fourth Estate is not new but an enduring sore in the area of public discourse.
This is also a deeply satisfying book. Satisfying because, as in the best detective fiction, there is a resolution and a sense of justice done to the victim, but there are also tantalizing threads that Miss Summer-scale ties up with a convincing authority. As reviews of murder mysteries, crime fiction and detective stories often conclude: highly recommended.
There was only one egregious, regrettable and highly painful error. On page 224 and in the index, Dr Pusey’s Christian name is given as Edmund!
DAILY EUCHARISTIC LECTIONARY
Common Worship Canterbury, 830pp, hbk 978 185311896 8, [£30]
For all the pious protestations, it is clear that ecumenism is not what it was. The demands of branding are now too important to Anglicans, for us happily to use what others have already provided. The Common Worship brand, therefore, needs to establish its authority by providing its own comprehensive range of altar books.
One should not mock (too much): one can imagine a good middle-of-the-road CofE parish, with a fine CW altar book, a Sunday lectionary and Exciting Holiness for saints’ days, feeling slightly embarrassed at having to use the RC Weekday Lectionary for the Tuesday morning communion service. Like well-pressed linen and a consistent set of vestments, a proper lectionary is part of the ‘right ordering’ that lends authority to the rite.
Is there any more to this exercise than a publisher responding to the need for denominational pride and self-esteem? The Ordo Lectionum Missae is over twenty-five years old: it is hardly surprising if some improvements could not be made, in particular to the psalms. Do these justify a completely separate edition? Frankly, no. This volume will be used by those who have already decided they want a distinct CofE identity; for churches with a copy of volume II of the Study Edition of the Common Lectionary, there is nothing here to persuade them to change.
As one who was in publishing before entering the sacred ministry, I dislike the mean modernism of CW typesetting; even after nearly a decade I still get annoyed at the headings set at the foot of the page, and the curious tightness and waste of space. I would suggest that what might have looked slick in the first official volumes now looks gaunt and starved in the smaller, secondary volumes. The RC Volume II may also share the strange oversight of only a single ribbon marker, but it is much easier and more pleasing to use.
No, the real problem, as always, is the lack of confidence that CW conveys. The five pages of Gospel Acclamations in an appendix at the back are a compromise, and we could all rehearse the political reasons for such compromise, but what is this compromise doing here? If you don’t want them, why are they there? If you do, well, the RC version does them way better, as you would already know. As for the variant quadruple Alleluia for Eastertide, what is that about? If you want to do your own thing, why would you be using a lectionary anyway?
More serious is the lack of decision-making by the House of Bishops, who still cannot bring themselves to publish their promised statement on which biblical versions to use in the sacred liturgy. Don’t blame the publishers, they do a good job; but the idea that a sub-contracted editor of the Canterbury Press office is the one to decide for the Church of England as a whole, that for example Psalm 1 (on the Thursday of the second week of Lent and elsewhere) does not have a Christological reading whereas Psalm 8 (on the Tuesday of week five in ordinary time) does, is surely a nonsense.
The trouble with branding is that it has a capitalist economic base. Nothing wrong with that, but until the House of Bishops can give some kind of authoritative lead, the implicit statement that a publisher tells us what to read at a weekday Mass, rather
than the Ordinary, is the kind of branding I do not want – even if not one in a thousand is aware of it. Though some of its faults irritate me, I shall stick with the volume I already have.
An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England Aidan Nichols op Family Publications Oxford, 160pp, pbk 978 1871217 74 2, £8.95
Heady days for people who like the sticking-out of distinctively Christian necks. Benedict XVI has the temerity to compose a Good Friday prayer envisaging the acceptance of Christ by the Jews. Now: Jesus himself preached to the Jews…and the Apostles preached first to them…and for some
two millennia Christians have believed that the Gospel is for all races without exception. So you might think, prima facie, that denying the Gospel to that race alone constituted racial discrimination. Not a bit of it. There is a constituency, often quite syncretist in its ideology, opposed to any promotion of the Gospel, and this question is the thin end of their wedge. For papa Ratzinger to desire the conversion of the Jews confirms their worst suspicions about him.
And Aidan Nichols has come up with The Realm: an Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England. In this, he even suggests that the English should have the Gospel preached to them. As if we English, the spiritual heirs of our great Patriarch St Pelagius, aren’t thoroughly good enough as we are: honorary Christians simply by birth who exchange Christmas cards and might even cut the grass in the churchyard. Even more outrageously, Fr Aidan actually wants us to be converted to the Romish faith.
There is, however, for Catholic Anglicans, an interesting nuance to Fr Aidan’s scheme. T support…the scheme for an Anglican church-body united to Rome but not absorbed.’ He refers to us as ‘beyond doubt as to doctrine, worship and devotion though not ecclesial communion, a displaced portion of Catholic Christendom’; speaks of Anglo-Papalism of the most extreme or consistent (depending on how one looks at it) Anglo-Catholicism of the twentieth century’. And, programmatically, he writes of ‘the Catholic traditions – which…I interpret to include the Catholic-compatible component in the Church of England’. He relies to a considerable extent on authors and poets from (even if some of them eventually left it) our stable: Reckitt; Eliot; Chesterton; Sayers; Charles Williams; David Jones. This book sends a message to us that one of the ablest thinkers in modern Roman Catholicism thinks of our tradition as an indispensable element in his cultural project. We ought to feel complimented: it is quite a tribute to the intellectual fertility of a (numerically) fairly small portion of the Lord’s vineyard. But I believe it cannot be a matter of just sitting on our laurels; I believe we need to respond to such overtures while such people as Aidan Nichols are still taking us seriously.
Let us be precise about what Fr Aidan is saying. His book is not a friendly ecumenical gesture addressed to the broad cultural phenomenon of current mainstream establishment Anglicanism. About that he is brusquely dismissive. Writing about Roman Catholic Liberals who want to believe that the salvation of their own Church depends on the adoption of a ‘package of liberal reforms’, he observes that ‘all the desiderata such critics set forward are now already achieved in the Church of England. Bearing in mind that Anglicanism’s decline in England has been only slightly less rapid than that of the Catholic Church, we can ask rhetorically, To what apostolic effect has this been?’ He answers his own question with the adjective ‘miniscule’. No; it is ourselves – the minority derided and despised by our fellow Anglicans – that he is prepared to take seriously. Members of Forward in Faith will naturally remember his kindly and generous words a few years ago at our National Assembly, and the hours he devoted to the labours of the group which produced Consecrated Women’? He, of all men, deserves to be read by us, taken seriously by us, and responded to by us.
Fr Aidan’s broad and deeply informed survey of English history and of English culture must be read in detail. Many from the older, even Caroline, tradition within Catholic Anglicanism will be moved by his detailed examination of the Coronation Service and of the ideology it presupposes of a Christian monarch in a Christian society. How remarkable that it should fall to a Roman Catholic to analyse sympathetically what many regard as an irrelevant relic of Stuart, Anglican England! His demonstration of how the Catholic Faith is woven into the fabric of English language and culture will likewise appeal to those whose faith is garnished with a dash of nostalgia.
But within these pages there are also penetrating discussions of the social and intellectual cruces of the present day. What is Englishness? Fr Aidan appears less impressed by the rhetoric of multicultural-ism than by the perception that ‘a typical Catholic church’ will have a bipolar existence, ‘both wider than a given country and yet rooted in that country’. How about Archbishop Rowan’s exploration (which probably hit the media after Fr Aidan had laid down his pen) of a possible role for shariah law? Fr Aidan wishes us to move to ‘a society that multiplies associative authorities…’ and quotes from Centesimus annus the late Pope’s words about ‘intermediate communities [that] exercise primary functions and give life to specific networks of solidarity’.
He takes up again a theme upon which he has already written: Liturgy. This is all the more timely, since the present Holy Father is at last getting to grips with the malaise at the heart of post-Conciliar Catholic worship. Nichols writes of how the liturgy forms our imaginations; of’sensuous signs’ moving across the boundary between the inner and outer worlds; of a ‘distinctively Christian mysticism [that] has its origin in the synthesis of inner and outer that is the Word incarnate in his mysteries’. Only ‘the re-enchantment of the Liturgy and the full restoration of its sacral character’ can re-establish a truly Christian culture in our country. I wince every time I read an episcopal blueprint for Mission (most of them, of course, are really covert schemes for a combination of managed retreat and organizational centralism) which does not have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at its heart. And few of them do. They would be much better if their authors took to heart ‘integral evangelism’: Fr Aidan’s phrase for ‘an evangelization which addresses all the dimensions of the person-in-society that Christian wisdom can help to flourish’. Save the Liturgy, save the Church.
I suppose we will have no choice, over the next five years, but to continue the fight against aggressive and fundamentalist liberalism within our own ecclesial body. But securing out of the Manchester Report some sort of just-about-acceptable protected ghetto within an increasingly hostile environment is not exactly a crusade for the Conversion of England. Fr Aidan has given us the chance to raise our sights above the dust and the mess of our own immediate preoccupations.
IN THE EYE OF THE STORM
Canterbury, 190pp, pbk 978 185311 902 6, £12.99
This is not the ‘revealing personal memoir’ the back cover blurb claims it to be; it is instead a carefully constructed preparation for the forthcoming ‘Gene Robinson Show’ or ‘Not-the-Lambeth-Conference’. It opens with six pages of supporting quotations from the great and the good and ends with a summary of the reasons why he will not be attending Lambeth 2008 ‘with diminished status’ even though he had suggested this course action back in 2003.
There is no doubting that he is a gracious and charming man. The section of the book entitled ‘Everyday Christianity’ is essentially a reworking of some earlier homilies. He has an easy and engaging style, and a real warmth (something not immediately obvious in many of his fiercest critics). These chapters are included to show how ‘orthodox’ he is, on all questions other than that for which he is known. It would be churlish to criticize what are light and cheerful pieces, but there is nothing to suggest he has been challenged by a single element of orthodox teaching: by ‘orthodox’ he means no more than ‘ordinary by Episcopalian standards’ or ‘not holding any weird and wacky ideas’. That may work in an American setting; in England we expect more of a bishop.
His approach to the gay issue is avowedly and deliberately simple – it is a justice issue, and nothing else. He shares all the usual arguments, in particular the liberal interpretation of the abolition of slavery in the nineteenth century as the cornerstone of that view of history that sees lgbt acceptance as inevitable. There is nothing new here, but there is real passion from one who knows better than most what it is like to be the focus of such visceral hatred – wearing a bullet-proof vest at his consecration is mentioned more than once, and not without justification.
If his analysis is right, and justice alone is relevant, then all the rest of us are wrong, and not merely slightly wrong, but terribly wrong. Our names, if they are remembered, will be held in infamy and disgrace for generation unto generation. I do not happen to think it is quite as simple as he suggests, but I did appreciate encountering his passionate conviction.
He knows himself to be a living icon. His account of a visit to an underground gay/lesbian church in Hong Kong puts him in an almost messianic role; his Christmas Eve visits to the New Hampshire State Prison for Women also place him in a highly charged and emotional setting of mythical quality. He knows himself to be more than simply Gene Robinson.
For this reason, I was shocked by his lack of candour. He accounts for his time in an alcoholics rehabilitation centre in a single sentence, in such a manner one might suppose that it was no more than another element of his episcopal pastoral work. Perhaps this is fair enough: none of us can claim an entry into his private troubles. But his marriage is alluded to in only half a sentence! He introduces the tale of a conservative colleague, who eventually came round to full acceptance, with the words, ‘More than twenty years ago, when my wife and I made the decision to end our marriage…’
It gets worse. Jeffrey John, a openly gay cleric of true grace, integrity and intellect, whose own election to the episcopate was overturned, is quoted on the cover of the book as saying, ‘Gene Robinson is no revolutionary: he upholds marriage as a sacred covenant.’ Has his wife of fifteen years simply been airbrushed out of the official history? And yet the basic facts are easily available online, and his tortured pilgrimage a perfectly reasonable subject for a ‘revealing personal memoir’.
He is a troubled man. The deliberate attempt to gloss over his difficulties is what makes it clear that this book is not what it claims to be, so much as a manifesto for his visit to England later this summer. He was given a sabbatical, to write this book, along with an editor whom he thanks in the introduction, but the cut and paste seams still show. I did not know that he had said, T always wanted to be a June bride,’ which only made his spluttering, vituperative justification a cringingly embarrassing read; this is a man falling over his own feet.
It is this contradiction that undoes this presentation. So fiercely honest is about his gayness, that it has become (understandably) a global crusade – he knows himself to be, what his critics suggest, the living embodiment of the future – and in all this, he has forgotten to be honest about himself.