The Ladder of Escape
14 April–11 July 2011 Admission £15.50, concessions £13.50
‘HE CAN’T help it, he comes from Barcelona.’ Basil Fawlty would not have liked Joan Miró. He was politically to the Left; his work was heavily influenced by Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism; and a lot of his work needs an explanation from the artist so the viewer can see what it is about. Had Miró known what an MCC tie was, who knows what use he might have put it to.
Coming from Barcelona mattered to Miró. He was a Catalan Nationalist. When he was young Catalonia was granted political concessions, but for most of his life those concessions were crushed in the Civil War and then by Franco’s dictatorship. He called himself ‘Joan’ rather than ‘Juan’ to identify himself with Catalan culture and though his work often has a dreamlike or escapist character, The Ladder of Escape is grounded in the soil and in the harsh politics of his time. That is what this exhibition sets out to show, and it makes a good case.
Three things immediately strike the visitor; the strong, often sun-drenched colours; the personal symbolism with its focus on particular details or features; the vitality of the work. Because they are so personal the works have to be taken on their own terms. They are technically well done but the question for the visitor is going to be, do I or can I share Miró’s vision? That vision continuously changed and developed, from the early celebrations of the Catalan soil set around Montroig where Miró’s parents bought a farm and the reworking of that early vision through Surrealism; then the savage and angry paintings which are Miró’s response to the Civil War and which culminate in the impressive Barcelona Series of dictators and victims; the small, dense and bright Constellation pictures which are so hard to find a point to focus on; the great abstract triptychs of the early Sixties and Seventies; the protest works of ’68 which lead to the final diverse pieces, the Fireworks triptych which reverses black and white, the early figure which is all but blotted out by a sinister back head, and the large sculptures – Majesties – which undercut the pretentions of power with their cheap, found materials.
Of all these varied works those which are most sympathetic are the great triptychs. They were designed to echo religious art and are more contemplative and less political than most of the show. Miró does good sophisticated primitivism with a rustic sensibility; and he is very good at suggesting the oppression and violence and absurdity of political power, but unless Ubu Roi is your kind of theatre it is these triptychs which are the heart of the show.
Four are exhibited, two in one room, two in another. In the first room one triptych of blues with red sprayed on lines and black circles and lines may not sound promising but draws the viewer in. Opposite hang saturated colours – red, green, orange – with white, yellow and grey splashes. They allow the weary eye to rest and become immersed and gently stimulated. In the second room the two triptychs are the unpromisingly titled The Hope of a Condemned Man (in memory of the anarchist Salvador Puig Antich) and Painting on White Background for the Cell of a Recluse. Both are basically white. The former has either a red, blue or yellow blob with an encircling black line and grey, grass-like patterns. The latter is almost pure white with a single, wavy black line on each canvas. They are monumental, restrained works which are worth spending time with.
Not an exhibition for Basil Fawlty, but an exhibition of a genuine and individual artist.
A Man who Became Pope Directed by Giacomo Battiato
With the beatification of John Paul II earlier this year there has been renewed interest in his life and his writings. This film is not for the faint hearted; coming in at just over three hours it is something of a marathon; but it is a wonderful exploration of a man who, as the DVD cover claims, ‘was marked by history and … changed its course.’
The film centres around Karol Wojtyla’s life in his early twenties until his election as Pope. It is clear from watching the film that so much of what happened in Wojtyla’s early life had a profound effect on his ministry. Witnessing the suffering both of his
Jewish friends and also of the Church during the Nazi occupation of Poland would have a deep and long lasting impact. Witnessing so much life being extinguished at the hands of men who claimed that it was for the common good made Wojtyla a passionate advocate for human life, a gift from God not to be taken. Piotr Adamczyk’s portrayal of Wojtyla captures what a wonderful person he was, one who laughed and cried with his friends and his family, a sportsman, a charismatic teacher and preacher as well as a man of prayer and devotion. Wojtyla worked not only against the evils of Nazism but also the evils of Communism, strengthening the Church in prayer and also fostering vocations and teaching in seminaries.
As Pope, Wojtyla was to beatify and canonize many saints, many of them martyrs who had died for the faith in persecutions similar to the one he himself endured. One of the most moving scenes is when a priest friend of Wojtyla’s, Tomasz Zaleski (played by Raoul Bova), is killed by a firing squad having heard the confession of a German soldier who wishes to repent of all that he has done in the name of Nazism. We need always to remember that the Nazis sought to destroy the Church when she stood up against the evil of their aims.
The film does take some time to get going and the first few scenes can feel somewhat slow but I urge the viewer to persevere. The film is of course in places fictional and speculative but at its heart it captures well the life of perhaps the greatest Pope of the twentieth century. The soundtrack, by the well-known composer Ennio Morricone, is also worthy of mention both for what it adds to the often traumatic scenes and also for its subtlety; it never seems to dominate or intrude on what is happening on the screen. Sections of this film would be ideal for use in discussion groups about the life of John Paul II. The film is rated a ‘12’ due to some violence and the scenes relating to the Holocaust: they do not make easy viewing. They remind us of the horrors of that period of our history and how they shaped an entire generation. We must never forget that Pope John Paul II’s ministry as Pope was shaped by these events; nor must we forget his message of peace, hope and reconciliation.
MISERERE AND THE MUSIC OF ROME
The Cardinall’s Musick, Andrew Carwood Hyperion, CDA6760 £13.99
AT THE centre of this beautiful CD is an extraordinary piece of music: the Missa Cantantibus Organis, a Mass for twelve voices written by seven composers based in Rome. This is perhaps the closest that music gets to being written by committee successfully, since each composer was charged with composing a particular section which was then put together to form a whole (almost – some sections of the Mass are missing). The parallel with the production of the King James Version of the Bible is thus striking.
Each composer took a theme from Palestrina’s motet of the same name and used that as the inspiration for his own work. Allegri was among the seven, as was Palestrina himself, whose original motet is also included here. Both the motet andthe patchwork Mass it inspired are beautiful pieces of music, sung with panache and aplomb by The Cardinall’s Musick under the direction of their founder Andrew Carwood. Recordings of both are rare, which cannot be said of Allegri’s Miserere. Indeed, one wonders whether the Miserere is included on this disc – and in its title – for the purpose of getting the CD noticed by the search facilities of online retailers and other search engines. Having said that, it would be churlish not to add that the Miserere is finely sung itself, with a freshness and vigour that cannot be claimed by all renditions.
Two other, rarer, pieces by Allegri and a stunning Salve Regina by Anerio complete the disc. The construction of the Missa Cantantibus Organis, and the story of its creation, are entertainingly explained by Carwood in generous and attractive sleeve-notes. This is a disc full of music which deserves to be better known; sung and produced in a manner which should achieve that goal. If it takes a little bit of help from the Miserere to push things along, then who are we to complain?
Pilgrims and Pilgrimage
St Pauls Publishing, 400pp, pbk
978 0854398119, £19.99
IN THIS 950th anniversary year, books on Walsingham abound. This is undoubtedly among the best. The familiar history of the foundation and early growth of the Shrine is deftly told, as is the sad tale of the destruction of the Shrine at the Reformation and the proceeding fallow years.
Where this book comes into its own, however, is in the narrative of the founding of both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic shrines, and in its portrayal of the nature and charism of Walsingham. Michael Rear is a former Vicar of Walsingham, and subsequently served on the staff of the Roman Catholic Shrine having been re-ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. He says in the introduction that he first went to Walsingham as a seven-year-old boy, and has been drawn back there – as so many are – ever since. The different phases of Fr Rear’s life evidently fed into the production of this book, as witnessed by the fact that the author ends a moving chapter entitled ‘The Glorious Vision’ with the declaration of hope that by the 1,000th anniversary in 2061 there will be just one Shrine in Walsingham (neither Anglican nor Roman Catholic, but just – Walsingham’). He quotes J.M. Neale (the founder of the SSM sisters who have a house at the Anglican Shrine) by way of challenging those who might be sceptical of this goal: ‘Possible things may be done, impossible things must be done.’ The same section of the book also offers a simple yet profound analysis of the nature and importance of devotion and pilgrimage, including a powerful affirmation of the continuing power of Our Lady’s intercession to bring about miracles in our own time. This book is clearly a labour of love, the result of which is a magnificent achievement.
Walsingham is well indexed, and contains a useful bibliography and copious notes, and appendices which include the Pynson Ballad and other ballads about Walsingham. But useful as these are, they do not sum up the nature of the book. That is achieved rather by the generous array of beautiful photographs and illustrations which bring to life both the history and present existence of Walsingham and places related to it – ranging from Loreto to Kings Lynn! These photos are almost worth the cover price on their own. At almost £20 this is not a cheap book, but it is one of immense value. It is likely to become the definitive general introduction to the history, charism and raison d’être of England’s Nazareth.
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO
His Philosophy in a Historical and Contemporary Perspective
Virgilo Pacioni OSA Gracewing, 314pp, pbk 978 0852447376, £14.99
AUGUSTINE IS one of the giants of Western culture. Professor Pacionis book gives us a thorough, stimulating, exhaustively referenced, and structured view of the whole corpus of his output; the influences of his predecessors and contemporaries; and his influence on philosophy to the present time.
Some modern critics have decided that Augustine is not truly to be regarded as a philosopher, since he was a Christian and based his inquiry on the experiences of his own life, whereas philosophy should be a matter of disinterested reason.
Various philosophers through the centuries have maintained that the crucial question is the existence or nonexistence of God, but Augustine seems to flout this tradition when he thanks God for leading him in his researches to the answers to many baffling questions and to a knowledge of him; and when he comes to an actual demonstration the ‘proof’ is described even by Pacioni as ‘tenuous’, which suggests Augustine’s critics might have a point.
What should we say? A Christian thinker – no less than an atheist or agnostic – should be heard when he exercises his reason in the light of his own life experience; and I say ‘light’ advisedly since Augustine compares his insights after long and anxious pondering with a beam of light cast by God upon his otherwise insuperable bafflement.
Some might say that this is not philosophy, but others may answer, ‘It is Christian philosophy.’ If pure deductive reason is employed it may well be possible to prove that God is, but without the light of faith it will remain a somewhat abstract finding.
In his philosophy of the nature of man Augustine, Pacioni shows, holds that he is a rational being but that his ability to know and to reason must be based at first upon authority. To know anything we have to be instructed. As our power of reasoning grows under instruction we become capable of making a free, rational decision as to whether we can continue to have faith in that (human) authority. That is, we make a judgement about it; so that knowledge and reason, and the belief that we are doing something that we can do, grow with being exercised.
For Augustine this faith in a human authority, if true and if truly reasoned about, will lead the mind in the direction of a divine Authority and eternal Truth, unchanging and never-failing: the true object of faith.
Pacioni deals with various other aspects of Augustine’s thought, too many to be examined here, but all stimulating and as relevant in the twenty-first century as they were in the fourth. Augustine is willing to define: what human nature is; what free will is; the nature of time (in which pursuit he was assisted by study of St Paul); what history is; and finally the questions of political philosophy, including civil law and its claim to our obedience, and the relationship between the Church and the state.
The latter is a good thing in so far as it ensures social cohesion, the freedom of the individual within the law, and the freedom of the Church to care for its people in the faith and in accordance with the law of God. When it requires people in their words or by their actions to infringe the law of God it exceeds its authority and forfeits its claim to obedience.
For Augustine the proper relationship between Church and state is one of co-existence. We all, I dare say, have our own image of the ideal manifestation of this, of the City of God, but since they are so various it would be a mistake to think that any one of them represents exactly God’s reality.
This is a remarkable book, marred only by the number of misprints – even in some of the quotations from the writings of Augustine.
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE TRINITY
Declan Marmion and Rik Van Nieuwenhove
Cambridge University Press, 262pp, pbk
MARMION AND Van Nieuwenhove establish clear parameters of discussion from the outset of this slim yet impressively thorough volume: ‘belief in the Trinity is not simply speculation about the inner nature of God, but is intimately connected with salvation.’ Furthermore, ‘believing in and worshipping a God who is triune has important implications for anthropology, ecclesiology, and society.’ In the chapters which follow, all of these aspects are touched upon, while at the same time the authors outline the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity from its scriptural roots through the patristic and medieval periods to the Reformation era, the Enlightenment, the twentieth century and the present day. An Introduction to the Trinity draws from a wide variety of theological sources, and primary source-material is selected and used intelligently and sensitively. This book is an excellent anthology of Trinitarian thought, and gives fair consideration to contributions from a range of theological traditions. Particularly fine are the several sections on the Trinity and worship (‘how liturgy is a participation in the Trinitarian koinonia’) which highlight the liturgical origins of early Trinitarian theology; and a short discussion of
the Trinity in art: a six-page excursus (with well-reproduced illustration) on Rublev’s Holy Trinity is a joy to read. A section on the use of gendered language to image the Trinity is interesting if rather cursory. Each of the six chapters is concluded with a well-chosen and accessible list of suggestions for further reading, incorporating classical and more recent texts. The closing chapter is a good survey of the contemporary (Western) theological landscape, and offers robust criticism of some less than orthodox ideas. The best dimension of this title, however, is the authors’ determination to work out a ‘participative and sapiential understanding of theology.’ This involves not only rooting theology in spirituality, but also maintaining the interrelationship of faith and reason, a ‘holy reason’ based in prayer, and ‘no longer conceived in purely autonomous or universalist terms.’ Thus exercised, reason construes the Trinity as an ethical doctrine and as a relational model for human community – a ‘Trinitarian ontology.’ Particularly gratifying to note is the role played in this by ‘inclusivist [or pluralist] reading’ of Scripture, combining the historical-critical hermeneutic with ‘other, more spiritual, interpretations’, after the ‘pre-modern’ patristic and medieval examples. The authors express the hope that this might ‘assist us in bridging the gap between modern biblical exegesis and systematic theology.’ Not only is the Trinity the specifically Christian way of speaking about God, it also provides a theological lens through which to ground corporate ‘human-being.’ Although billed as ‘an introduction’ for ‘students and scholars alike’, this book asks for a fairly high degree of theological literacy in its readers, meaning it is very much more a title for the clergyman or ordinand’s library than for the Lent course. But for those wishing to refresh or deepen their knowledge of this branch of systematic theology, An Introduction to the Trinity is a fine place to begin.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SOUL Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro Wiley-Blackwell, 228pp, pbk
978 1405196321, £14.99
IN THE contemporary, scientific approach to the world in which we live, there is no place for the soul. It is unnecessary and redundant, a relic of earlier cultures that lacked our critical understanding. Rather like Christianity, you might think. The task the two authors set themselves is, therefore, not an easy one. Their success is all the more striking because of this, and encouraging for those of us who still hanker after the ideal of individual personhood.
This is a dense book, for its coverage is impressive. The first part is a historical survey of the philosophy of the soul from the Greeks, to Christendom, to the early philosophers of the Enlightenment in seventeenth-century Europe and eighteenth-century Britain. I was pleased to note that Descartes, the universal scapegoat for all modern discussions of the soul, turns out not to be the mechanistic fool of popular myth. And that the British empiricism of Locke, Butler, Reid and Hume still has a huge amount to offer, even when it is wrong. The presentations are by way of extensive quotation, which is most effective. But it is indigestible, so either read fast or in short bursts, and don’t expect to grasp every nuance.
All this, as well as being useful in its own right, brings us properly prepared for a serious discussion and robust response to the challenges posed to the soul by the supposed conclusions of modern science. Why do most serious, educated westerners dismiss the idea?
Causation is crucial. Who is doing what? Or, more accurately, what is doing what? Open up your brain (figuratively, of course) and observe what is going on (as though you were God, or as we like to think of him today, the perfect scientist). You will see electrical impulses (don’t worry about the detail here; delegate the donkey work to mythical minions), each of which is caused by other electrical impulses and in turn causes other electrical impulses, some of which are caused by or in turn cause changes in the outside physical world.
Got the picture satisfactorily embedded in your imagination? Excellent. Now find your soul. Cannot see a thing? Well, ask yourself what it might be doing, and if so where would it be doing it? Still nothing: there is your answer. The brain (with the outside physical world) is causally complete. There are no loose ends. There is nowhere in this self-contained universe, where the soul (or any equivalent metaphorical entity) can find any purchase; there is nowhere for it to interact. If you have a soul, therefore, it is not the part of the universe as we know it. In other words, you have no soul.
This problem arises from the metaphysical deficit of contemporary science. Science is so successful precisely because it does not clutter itself with metaphysics – there is no such thing as cause, only an observable connection. All this is fine when you are doing science. Enter the world of philosophy (or theology) with these content-less concepts, and you are prey to an escalating cacophony of confusion. The authors are excellent in their forensic dissection of these contradictory generalizations. Neat, sharp and telling: a summary would not convey the force of their arguments.
There is still no proof that you have a soul. This book will not arm you with a collection of knock-down rationalizations to defeat the atheists and materialists. But it will strengthen your rational confidence in your own identity. You know you are who you are, because you have the assurance from Christ; but this will strengthen your rational backbone and stiffen your sinews.
Are the authors believers? Only because they are Americans would one guess them to be. Which only adds to the value of the book, for this is not Christian apologetic (you would say that, wouldn’t you), but a philosophical investigation of concepts central to any theism. An excellent read.
How the Digital Age is Changing Our Minds, Why This Matters and What We Can Do about It
Richard Watson Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 211pp, pbk
978 1 85788 549 1, £12.99
TO WHAT extent is our mental creativity being served by the screen culture? How can the human mind change the way it thinks to make the best of futures? These are big questions addressed by media savvy strategist Richard Watson in Future Minds. Einstein wrote: ‘the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.
We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift’. It is the cultivation of this gift, headed ‘deep thinking’, that the author sees as essential to harnessing digital technology’s service of rational thinking into the best of futures. Though we assume knowledge increases over time, is this the case? ‘The sheer volume of digital dross and distraction that is now so easily co-created and distributed is drowning out learning and wisdom. So perhaps we are not in the middle of an information revolution, but rather at the start of a machine-driven disinformation revolution.
An electronic era in which ordinary individuals become so confused that they just give up thinking in any meaningful way. An age in which we are so focused on ourselves that our ability to relate to other people starts to decline.’ Future Minds is a perceptive 211 pages that excites self-examination among internet addicts. The speed of mental operations might be disguising selfish impatience and a growth in ignorance about the big picture of the world. What is to be done? Watson insists we bid to recover both space and time so as to re-establish day by day deep thinking lest the great convenience of electronic technology saps the resilience and patience essential to creativity.
The power of the book is in its call not to reject technology but to remain its master in directing it towards human flourishing, balancing its intelligence against our own and supplementing its provisions with wisdom drawn from deep reflection, conversation and literature. The cult of the immediate and contemporary is well exposed but not in a negative way since, as Watson reminds us, the internet may rank ultimately with the alphabet and numbers as a third mind-altering technology of universal significance. What lies at the heart of this important book is the struggle for the future of humanity which machines should serve but never at the expense of our mental and spiritual well-being.
Reflections on God,
Scripture and the Church Walter Brueggemann,
edited by Carolyn J. Sharp SCM Press, 320pp, pbk
978 0334043997, £25
WALTER BRUEGGEMANN is one of the great Old Testament scholars of our time. He is also controversial. In this collection of lectures he shows why people find him both stimulating and uncomfortable; God is stimulating and uncomfortable. God is in relationship with human beings or, as Brueggemann says, in constant dialogue. There are two ways we can avoid that: one is by elevating God to a supreme status where he is removed from human life; or where in fact he is controlled by us, only allowed to be a certain kind of supreme but un-disturbing God; the other is by claiming autonomy. We don’t need this God. We can be spiritual without religion. The first way is idolatry; the second way is atheism. Throughout the Hebrew writings God shows himself in constant relation with his people; that is covenant. Like a parent he gets angry, loves, hates, punishes, consoles, but he never lets them go. And when Jesus comes he is the same. He teaches people, heals them, loves them, castigates them and dies for them. And as a defining symbol of this Brueggemann takes the feeding of the five thousand with its obvious Eucharistic interpretation. Jesus breaks himself, pours himself out so that people will come into a deep relationship with each other and with him. This is defining of the Christian Church. Without this relationship, intense and demanding as it must be, we cannot have Christianity. Typical of Brueggemann’s approach is his second essay in this book on the plagues of Egypt. Here God and Pharaoh are in direct conflict. At first they seem to be equal. The wise men do what Aaron does. But gradually the wise men are left behind; the court officials plead with Pharaoh to give in, but Pharaoh is so taken up with his own total power that he cannot give in. Like any of today’s dictators he cannot give in until power is ripped away from him. Does that mean that God is simply a more powerful dictator than Pharaoh? Some would take it so, but in fact God’s relationship leaves space for growth; it does not oppress. He gives Ten Commandments but they are not simply rules to be obeyed; they open a whole new world of family relationships and obligations even to care for the stranger in our midst. In a later essay Brueggemann describes the anxiety which drove Pharaoh of Egypt and continues to drive the modern western world and contrasts this with the Sabbath which places faith in God and so creates, in the Christian dispensation too, a sane and humane world in contrast with the exploitative tendencies of modern capitalism. One does not always agree with Brueggemann. His understanding of the Hebrew text is deep and precise; his ability to see connections and join up different passages is fascinating if sometimes a little tendentious.
His determination to show that this revelation of God to an ancient people thousands of years ago is a revelation to us too and should determine the way we treat each other leads him into areas of politics, economics, sexuality and human relationship where some may disagree with him, but every essay in this book is thought-provoking and informative, and challenges us in our contemporary Christian faith. That can only be good!
Nicolas Stebbing cr
TUMULT AND JOY:
A Short History of St Hilary
(Christopher Tyne, Control Print, 48pp, pbk, £3 + £1 postage and packing, available from the author at 87 Temple Avenue, Temple Newsam, Leeds, LS15 0JS)
An attractive and readable short history of the church of St Hilary, Penzance, the site of an outrageous attack and des ecration by the Protestant Truth Society in 1932. The author, who has published histories of several notable Anglo-Catholic parishes, has a real flair for writing about people, and seven handsome black and white photographs add flavour and context to the prose. This is a must for fans of Anglo- Catholic local history.
THE IDENTITY OF THE KING:
Sunday Thoughts (year B)
(David Mawson, Jacquedaw, 195pp, pbk, 978 0956511805, £9.99)
The first of three volumes of meditations on the lections for the Sundays of the year from the pen of an SSC priest. He writes in the introduction, ‘Expect no deep theology! But I hope you will find some down-to-earth common sense to help on your journey in the Footsteps of the King as we follow his teaching on the road to his Kingdom.’ That is precisely what this book provides, and it will be of service and interest to those who preach the Gospel week by week, and more generally by those who seek to live it.
In a similar vein, but with a subtly different goal in mind, FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Sunday Sermons that might have been – but for the Homily (Neil McNicholas, St Pauls Publishing, 195pp, pbk, 978 0854398096, £12.95) is a series of reflections, written originally for the author’s parish newsletter, on subjects which address Christian living but which are pushed aside by the instruction of the Second Vatican Council to preach on the Scripture readings of the day. ‘Vocations’, ‘Faith, Hope and Love’, ‘Aspects of Lent’, ‘Communion under both kinds’, and ‘Meatless Fridays’ are among the subjects discussed.
WORDING A RADIANCE:
Parting Conversations on God
and the Church
(Daniel W. Hardy et al., SCM Press, 170pp, pbk, 978 0334042082, £19.99)
The remarkable account of three conversations initiated by the author, sometime Van Mildert Professor of Theology in the University of Durham, when he was given six months to live. His interlocutors were his daughter, Deborah Hardy Ford, the Jewish philosopher Peter Ochs, and the well-known theologian David F. Ford, who also happened to be his son-in-law. The result is difficult to define, but is perhaps best summed up in the words of the publishers who describe the book as ‘an extraordinary spiritual testimony’.
A Practical Guide for Christian Leaders (Len Ko~er, St Pauls Publishing, 368pp, pbk, 978 854397990, £11.95)
A book about conflicts: how they arise, how they can be resolved, and how good Christian leadership and counselling can prevent them from escalating. The author is a priest and a psychotherapist, and this is above all a practical guide, complete with group exercises and review questions. There is some jargon to work through (‘intrapsychic conflicts arising from needs’), but for the right person or group, this will be a valuable resource. ND