//Views, Reviews and Previews

Views, Reviews and Previews

EXHIBITIONISM
Saatchi Gallery
until September 4th, 2016

Graduates of the LSE are, on average, the highest paid in the country. This show doesn’t reveal how much of that average is made up by Sir Mick Jagger, but he must be one of their most successful alumni. Because of his business nous and talent for spotting the right people for the job, the Stones were a well organised outfit who got better deals than the Beatles. Their shows were brand leaders: their PR was highly effective, and then later in the Seventies their stuck-out tongue logo encapsulated it all. It’s no surprise that they should organise a good show, an exercise in corporate mythmaking which may just be a copy of the highly successful David Bowie memorabilia exhibition currently on its world tour.

The length and layout of the exhibition is just right. There are five hundred things to look at: a computer display of miles travelled and concerts sung, a mock-up bedsit, posters of early gigs, voiceovers from those who were there, guitars, a mock-up recording studio, bits of tour film, art inspired by Jagger himself, costumes, a recent concert in 3D, and battered old vinyl covers. It’s an object lesson in exhibition craft: the labels are clear, and the narrative is straightforward. It’s also expensive, but what else do you expect from the Stones? The V&A, who put on the Bowie show, could learn ‘how to do it’ for their own in-house work.

The question is: why go? The music is out there already. The memorabilia is great if that’s your thing. Of course the Stones are a cultural phenomenon; and even if you have little interest in the music, it’s worth pondering how Jagger was so charismatic and why so many people have the Stones as the soundtrack of their lives. But the show doesn’t help as much as it might with that kind of pondering. It’s really just there to present the corporate image.

And, of course, to sell stuff. The once young Urban Bohemians have licensed their name and logo to Pringle – a company noted for golf sweaters – and to Turnbull & Asser, everybody’s favourite Jermyn Street shirtmakers. The shop says it all: despite the acreage of space, there’s actually not much to it. Pop commentators say that the same goes for the Stones’ music. They say it’s got louder, and more theatrical, but hasn’t changed much over the years. That’s unfair: there was a flirtation with Indian mysticism in the late Sixties, which they had the good sense to ditch. And the most – perhaps the only – heart-warming footage is of the young band in Chess Studios performing alongside some of their Blues heroes. Jagger’s peculiar stage persona begins to make a lot more sense when you see it growing out of a white-boy homage to the performance style of Blues singers.

This is corporate history, and as such it is partial. It describes, rather than explores, the way in which the point of the Stones – their Unique Selling Point – was not just the music, but the way they led the counter-culture: something made possible by the band’s wealth and physical stamina. The Stones poked out their tongue on behalf of people who needed to kick over the traces once in a while. Jagger is on record as saying that he hoped that the Stones would really break the mould of society. They didn’t in the sense that wealthy Bohos are still thin on the ground. They did in the sense that they were standard-bearers for the rejection of many traditional values; and they helped create a modern culture where the rich can behave badly without showing any sort of noblesse oblige on the way. In that they were similar to their contemporary Sir Richard Branson, whose ‘Virgin’ brand got off the ground through tax evasion, but potently mocked the Mother of God. Good PR and a cheeky feel of the zeitgeist saw these Sixties and Seventies moguls through.

The good PR means that despite the teasing posters, the part of the band’s history which got them into serious trouble is not touched on much. ‘Exhibitionism’ mentions, but doesn’t illustrate, the sex and drugs that were so much part of the band’s life and appeal. There is some video footage which half-shows something very naughty, but the ruthless and destructive side of the band doesn’t get much of a look in. After all, this is a celebration for the late middle-aged – the age-demographic of attendees is not much different from most London shows. In his voiceovers, however, Sir Mick comes across as nicely spoken and highly intelligent. Maybe there’s a line in homecare which he might develop for his fans.

 

AUGUSTINE
Conversions and Confessions
Robin Lane Fox
Allen Lane 447pp hbk £30
ISBN 978 1846144004

Robin Lane Fox is the author of many books on classical history, including Alexander the Great(1973). His Augustine is immensely detailed and scholarly, with pages of bibliography and notes. It absorbs all previous studies of the saint and follows his life up to his first year as Bishop of Hippo Regius. Lane Fox’s massive knowledge of the ancient world and the culture of that era illuminate the circumstances of Augustine’s conversions.

The author takes account of the most up-to-date information based on recent discoveries of Augustine’s sermons and letters. He compares Augustine with an older contemporary, Libanius: a Greeks peaking pagan from Antioch, who studied oratory at Athens. Another frequently mentioned contemporary is Synesius: a native of Cyrene, and a philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais. Because of this kind of detail we get a clearer understanding of the culture and thought-forms that influenced the saint as he reflected in prayer to God on his past life.

This book follows Augustine’s life up to the time when he completed his Confessions through his many changes or conversions up to his baptism and episcopal ordination. Augustine’s philosophical reflections are studied in detail. The proscribed cult of Mani, of which Augustine was an adherent for nine years, is given intensive attention based on the most recent research.

Perhaps the most significant influence in Augustine’s life was the teaching he received from Ambrose of Milan during Lent 387 in preparation for his baptism, and also the further teaching given during Eastertide. Lane Fox argues convincingly that this experience determined the production of the Confessions ten years later when Augustine, as sole bishop of Hippo, presided for the first time at the Easter baptisms. He considers that the book was delivered orally and noted down by secretaries and then revised by Augustine during the period when the Christian congregations accompanied neophyte sin prayer, confession, and fasting as they prepared for baptism. The conclusion of the Confessions was written with Ambrose’s post-baptism, Easter lectures in mind.

I was particularly interested in the account of Augustine’s foundation of his religious community in 388 when he returned to his native home from Italy. He was thirty-four years old, and to avoid civic obligations he gave his share in the family property to the Church. He became a ‘Slave of God,’ living at first in his own house in Tagaste with five others. It was an ascetic life committed to celibacy in the service of the Church, on the understanding that the Church would provide for their material needs. The names of five who joined him are known: his brother Navigius; his friend Evodius; also Nebridius and Alypius, his former students, who became close friends and eventually bishops; and his much-loved son, Adeodatus, who died in 390 in his seventeenth year. The members of the little community were not much engaged in manual work. They frequently attended services in the local church, discussed philosophical and theological questions, and engaged in contemplative prayer. After ten years their observance was guided by a Rule drawn up by Augustine.

When Augustine moved to Hippo, the bishop, Valerius, provided a wooden shed in the garden surrounding the Catholics’ church for the growing community. Some joined who were ordained and like Augustine combined priestly ministry with monastic community life. Simpler Christians also joined, not all of them from Hippo. Some were old men, some had been vagrants or labourers, and some were even slaves. In contrast to the Manichees the community was allowed meat and wine. Augustine’s ideal was the life of the early Jerusalem Christians as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: all assets were held in common and everyone was to work with his hands if he could.

The first nine books of the Confessions follow the course of Augustine’s life up to the time when he became bishop; but the following four books are concerned with philosophical issues and the interpretation of scripture, especially Genesis. Some editions omit these last books, but Robin Lane Fox explains that Augustine was following Ambrose’s scheme of teaching to those baptised at Easter. He expounded the Beatitudes and the book of Genesis, especially the Creation narratives, using allegory. I found Lane Fox’s study of these four books difficult, but perceptive and illuminating.

Readers will want to return to this magnificent work again and again to absorb this fascinating account of the best-known individual of the ancient Greco-Roman world.

Crispin Harrison CR

 

AMORIS LÆTITIA
The Joy of Love
Pope Francis
Catholic Truth Society 159pp pbk £4.95
ISBN 978 1784691226

‘Families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity,’ writes Pope Francis in this very full apostolic exhortation on love in the family. It is a work of encouragement that distils much pastoral wisdom from the church’s coal face of engagement with families across the world. In this engagement he makes clear that ‘interventions of the magisterium’ have a limited role in the church’s overall ministry of care. What matters most is helping people find God’s love and seeing how marriage and family can mirror it despite the complexity of the contemporary scene. There are two striking merciful interventions: ‘It can no longer simply be said that all those living in any “irregular situation” are living in a state of mortal sin’; and ‘[Remarried divorcé(e)s] are not excommunicated and should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the Church.’

A Pope of mercy writing in a Year of Mercy provides a welcome reminder that much moral decision making, inside and outside families, is about choosing lesser evils. This means pastors having responsibility to help people in prayerful decision-making, and being less legalistic. The Church has to stop applying moral laws as if they were ‘stones to throw at a person’s life.’ The core biblical material of Amoris Lætitia is a study of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, from which the exhortation draws out 13 aspects of love relevant within and beyond marriage. It is a powerful treatise. There is more emphasis on the unitive than the procreative aspect, and something of an apology for the church’s historic preoccupation with the latter almost to the detriment of the former. The Chapter on ‘Love made fruitful’ deals with procreation in the context of hospitality, the wider family, and the Church – which is ‘a family of families.’

This exhortation is remarkable for its Chapter entitled ‘Accompanying, discerning and integrating weakness’ that sets out mitigating factors in pastoral situations and ‘the logic of pastoral mercy.’ We read there this heartfelt plea from the Pope: ‘I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”.’

The Psalmist writes of love and truth walking together. In this document a pastoral heart opens up to us alongside one with deep love for the teaching of the Church through the ages. It will disappoint both conservatives and revisionists – most notably those arguing for same-sex unions to be permitted. There is something of a via media trodden in the Pope’s treatment of conscience. Conscience, he says, needs to be formed by Church teaching; but it also needs to be respected as the individual’s secure base for discerning what is right for them before God. This brings to mind Newman’s saying, with which this Pope might well concur, ‘I will drink to the Pope, but to conscience first.’

‘The Joy of Love’ perhaps ranks as one of the most important documents to appear since the Vatican Council. It picks up on ethical teaching from that source, with allied pastoral scenarios, and attempts a synthesis that is both helpful and hopeful.

John Twisleton.

 

FROM ROME TO ROYAL PARK
Gerald O’Collins SJ
Gracewing 250pp pbk £15
ISBN 978 0852448915

Rome! Some people love Rome for its buildings and its sense of history from classical times till now; others love it for its food, its churches, or for the awareness of being at the heart of the Christian Church. I love it for the people I have met there, in the Vatican, or in some of the universities and religious houses dotted around the city. There you meet scholars from all over the world: people who speak many languages who have a wonderful breadth of learning and experience. They are devout, hardworking, well informed, generous servants of the Church. The ones I meet have a real openness to those of us from the Anglican Church; most of them too are members of religious orders, and so we share in a common tradition of monastic life that goes back way beyond the time of the Reformation divisions.

Gerald O’Collins is one such person. He is an Australian Jesuit who taught for over 30 years in Rome. His subject is dogmatics, but his learning goes much deeper than that. He writes regularly for the Tablet and the Pastoral Review, and what he writes is always clear, informative, and tells one something new about Christian life. His short articles on books of the Bible are always worth reading. He has already written two autobiographical books: A Midlife Journey and On the Left Bank of the Tiber, which were both hugely entertaining and very informative about life within the Roman Catholic Church both before and after Vatican II. This third volume concerns the years since he left Rome and lived, first in England, then in his native Australia. There are however, many flashbacks to his Roman years: particularly through the disputes he has had with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, whom he regards as narrow minded, judgmental, unfair and largely inimical to any good movements in the Roman Catholic Church. On the evidence he presents one cannot but agree.

In some ways this is a less satisfactory book than the other two. It consists rather more of lists of talks he gave, retreats he led, books he wrote, or people he met. On the whole the people, when he tells stories about them, are the best part. They include churchmen like Josef Ratzinger, Cormac Murphy O’Connor, and George Carey; and non-clerics such as Boris Johnson and Tony Blair. O’Collins certainly has amazing energy, and rejoices particularly in his ecumenical contacts. He is very much a product of Vatican II: one of those who formed in the pre-Vatican II Church who found the Council an exhilarating adventure. He loved to see the Church opening out to the world, opening out to other Christians and even non-Christians, and recognising that not even the Roman Catholic Church can circumscribe God.

Above all, he is joyful: he loves the Church, he loves God, and he loves the people – not just Roman Catholic people, but all people who try to do good in the world. As such, he is a role model for those of us who look to the Roman Catholic Church to help us see how we can best be Catholics in our own Communion. Generosity, openness, scholarship, and love are features of Catholic life which show what an attractive God we worship.

Nicolas Stebbing CR

2018-07-03T15:18:36+00:00 June 2016 Articles|