Charles 1 King and Collector
until 15th April
This is the Academy’s 250th Anniversary show, a spectacular which recreates the art collection of King Charles 1st. Charles collected over 1,500 paintings and 500 sculptures, most of which were sold off after his execution. About 200 pieces, largely those which remained in England, were taken back by Charles 2nd. Of the 100 paintings and sculptures on display at the Royal Academy, about 75 come from the Royal Collection. The exhibition hype that Charles’ great collection has been brought under one roof for the first time in years is true-ish, but misleading. Most of the works on show come from various royal palaces. And most of the great works which Charles collected have stayed in their current homes of the Louvre and the Prado and points West and East – there’s no Leonardo ‘St John the Baptist’ or ‘Salvator Mundi’, no Caravaggio ‘Death of the Virgin’, no Raphael ‘Holy Family of the Pearl’ or ‘St George and the dragon,’ no Titian ‘Venus with organist.’
That said, the Academy’s salespitch is like the Van Dyck paintings of Charles, the story is not quite true but we shouldn’t mind because what we look at is beautifully done. That Van Dyck knew what he was dealing with is suggested by a sketch of Charles, now in the Rijksmuseum. It is the only surviving drawing of the king by Van Dyck and it shows a nervy chap, very much not the swaggering monarch of the great equestrian pictures. Three of those are placed together and the impact is gorgeous. The finest is the Louvre’s ‘Charles 1 in the hunting field,’ the monarch turned out in shimmering silks with no thought on his disdainful face of anything as dirty as hunting. Warts and all it isn’t.
Works by Van Dyck dominate the show. Their colours and the sense of fabric and the great soulful – or are they empty? – eyes are the essence of the monarchy Charles wished to project. They’re altogether more civilised and Italianate than the tough, Northern, hieratic paintings (not on show) which Holbien made of Henry VIII or the Gloriana images of Elizabeth I. Charles did collect some excellent North European paintings – the Frick’s ‘Three soldiers’ by Breughel the Elder and Her Majesty’s ‘Burkhard of Speyer’ by Dürer stand out – but his heart was in the Catholic South. Indeed, Charles swapped a book of Holbien drawings for one Raphael, the late and interesting ‘Holy Family of the Pearl.’ His son was able to retrieve the Holbiens but not the Raphael.
Charles’ passion for Raphael and the Italian Renaissance is witnessed by two large-scale sets of works. One is the Mortlake tapestries which were woven following the design of Raphael’s cartoons of scenes in the life of St Peter. These were some of the finest tapestries produced in England in the seventeenth century and are on loan from the Mobilier National, Paris. They take up one room of the exhibition and are much less faded than the Vatican versions (seen at the V&A when Pope Benedict visited the U.K.).
Even larger, though more faded and hard to read, is Mantegna’s ‘Triumph of Cæsar’ which is usually on display at Hampton Court Palace. This was one the prizes of the Gonzaga collection which Charles bought lock, stock and barrel and one of the few items Cromwell decided to keep, perhaps seeing it as a reflection on his own martial triumphs. Enhanced photographs are required to show how splendid and complex a series of panels Mantegna created.
However, it’s our own imagination which we need to appreciate this show, not just in terms of what the galleries of Whitehall Palace looked like but also the impact on the nation’s taste which Charles had. The making of the collection was a political act and during the Puritan triumph ownership of colourful foreign pictures could be politically suspect. In time, though, Charles was the man who set an abiding standard of good taste. As Rubens, ever the courtier, put it, he was the greatest amateur of his day.
So, go to this show for some splendid pictures. Enjoy the sky in Titian’s ‘Allocution of the Marquis Del Vasto to his troops’ and the rich tapestries in Veronese’s ‘Mars and Venus.’ Ignore the screeds of dull Italian stuff but take time on Gentileschi’s ‘Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.’ Above all spend time with the two Van Dyck self-portraits. One is the version recently acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. The second, with a similar turn and bust pose, is owned by the Duke of Westminster. It features a huge sunflower long avant Van Gogh. The incongruity of the contrast between the high and technically masterful finish of the painting and the gross bright yellow flower is one of the rare occasions when painting is genuinely amusing.
ANCIENT WORDS FOR A PRESENT GRACE
The Parish Press, $17.95
Ancient Words for a Present Grace is concerned with just that, taking the reader by the hand and exploring the inherited tradition through contemporary Christian living. This is the ideal book to spark meditation on both the deepest and most basic aspects of traditional worship, demonstrating the impact reiteration can have, and taking a moment to dwell on that which is often taken for granted.
In my case, the exposure to this work is well timed. Living and working in Pusey House in Oxford, my life is punctuated by the pattern of daily Eucharistic celebration and the Offices. Indeed, as the sacristan, it is usually my task to prepare our beautiful chapel for worship, and assist in the continual liturgical outpouring of the House. Consequently, much of my time is concerned with words; the words of the Office and the Mass, of corporate prayer and of fellowship. I found in this book a concise exploration of the significance of these very words, and the grounding they hold in the Anglo-Catholic tradition which shapes our lives and our worship. Canon Arthur Middleton reminds us of the power of speech, that ‘It is a medium in which we articulate our self-giving and through which God is present to us and when in the company of others it makes us present to them.’ We express our thoughts and beliefs, thereby giving them power, objectifying them while giving clarification. What’s more, when we say these words together they live as part of the communal life of Christ’s Church, as they have done for generations of Christians before us.
Whilst one may be tempted to fly through this relatively small book, he would do so at his own peril. Structurally, it regularly invites the reader to contemplate his own spiritual life. One must recognise the presence of grace in his immediate vicinity, within and without him, in the person next to him, in the sacrament, in the spoken word. Much is often made of the magical language of the Book of Common Prayer, and the enchanted world it presents to us; this work also dwells in the same sacramental cosmos. And yet, Ancient Words for a Present Grace binds its theological and ecclesiological insights with English history and divines, from the meditation on Henry Hammond as the ‘Embodiment of a Classic Anglican’, to the practical wisdom of Richard Hooker concerning prayer. But these meditations are not directionless; they follow an introductory calling for a return to the Church Fathers, which happens ‘when we recover and make ours the experience of the Church not as mere “institution, doctrine or system”… but as the all-embracing, all-assuming and all-transforming life, the passage into the reality of redemption and transfiguration.’ The book then paces itself throughout five chapters, beginning with the fundamental tenets of ‘The Joy of God Revealed’, and concluding with ‘Faith and Orders’, the ecclesial structure we now inhabit.
Despite the possibility of a book like this to let its love of the inherited tradition outshine its focus on the here and now, it never loses sight of the grace which pervades the present. Canon Middleton remains in his meditations both insightful and practical, highlighting the resulting difficulty that arises from sincere engagement with grace. On the Eucharist he observes: ‘This Bread will not give us a gospel of prosperity or life in the feel good zone. It will hand us a Cross as our weapon for life and the solution to death.’ This is not knowledge for its own sake. Reflecting on Julian of Norwich’s discussion of prayer, for instance, Canon Middleton emphasises the need for a sustained obedience and self-discipline in order to bring about the transformative effect of prayer. This is especially the case, he repeats, bearing in mind the challenges and temptations of our society today. The result is, he reminds us, that ‘people desperately need their parish priests to provide pastoral care to guide them through the modern psychological theories, the impact of sexually explicit media, entertainment, and the fallout from the extravagant and unequal wealth that characterises contemporary life.’ The Church must, therefore, recognise not only her identity and credentials, but what these mean for her mission and activity here and now.
In short, the meditations of Ancient Words for a Present Grace combine those two very things, put alternatively as the ‘authoritative foundation and continuity’, which constitute ‘catholicity’ in the book’s closing pages. Canon Middleton has produced a call to arms for Catholic Anglicans, and any Christian, to recognise the profound inheritance of the living Church, and her responsibility to use this gift from our forebears to draw out the grace which yet abounds.
A Spiritual Manifesto
University of Buckingham Press, 124pp,
£7.99 ISBN 9781908684981
Reading ‘Seeking Wisdom’ on the train brought comment from a man sitting opposite ‘at least its a short book’! Getting how to put the world right into 124 pages is indeed an achievement and the ‘spiritual manifesto’ is simple: you do so by putting yourself right. When psychiatrists advise on that many of us shrink back but Larry Culliford is no plain psychiatrist but a committed Christian who looks to the ‘sacred, all-powerful, unifying life force, or cosmic energy’ which is the Holy Spirit.
Repentance – putting ourselves right – is presented as ‘adopting personal
Spiritual Development Plans, to reduce the destructive power of the false “everyday ego”, while increasing the highly
beneficial influence of the true “spiritual self”. ’ Through openness to the Spirit we capture a universal sense allied to God’s compassion for all which is achieved by letting go of worldly materialist values and engaging positively with suffering.
Culliford’s gift is in opening up a big picture, placing his readers within it and showing how we as individuals can change the world. Sections are headed politics, leaders and followers, religion, education, health, capitalism and art prefaced by accessible psychology with an eye to spiritual deepening. We grow in six stages from egocentricity, social conditioning and conforming to convention so as to be individuals who seek integration (altruism) and what’s universal. So many stop halfway and fall short of altruism and aspiration towards universal wisdom and compassion which is why the world is in such a state, runs the author’s thesis which goes on to coach us forward.
The author’s stated ‘Rationale’ is this quote from Thomas Merton: ‘We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are’. Culliford presents a vision of the world that awaits this awakening and deepening into sacred unity. He has a challenge to Christian enthusiasts in his themes of integration and challenge to dualistic thinking which seems part and parcel of Christianity and Western culture as a whole. The manifesto and big picture thinking will attract spiritual seekers in and outside of religion and commend to them the addressing of self-seeking as the enemy both of progress and sound spirituality.
TO LIGHT A FIRE ON THE EARTH:
Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age
Robert Barron with John Allen Jr.
Image Books, 2017 260pp, £19.99
Proclaiming the Gospel is, in some ways, very much in vogue at the moment. The Church of England is encouraging engagement and proclamation from the centre. The Archbishop of York has been leading bishops of the Northern Province from diocese to diocese in an effort to spread the Message. Dioceses, too, are taking up the call in a variety of ways, with my own Diocese of Blackburn rolling out Vision 2026 to encourage every parish church to be working on discipleship, prayer, and lay-leadership in order to reach their parish for Christ. Our very own Bishop of Burnley has been at the forefront of many of these initiatives whilst rightly reminding us of our obligation to the poor. But how can we reach a secular nation, a nation which despises Christian teaching, with the Gospel? Old methods seem to have limited effect, and some of the new-fangled approaches owe more to marketing strategies that to sound doctrine. In other words, how can we reach out without selling out?
One man has been reaching out without selling out for a number of years, and doing so in a remarkably fruitful way. If you haven’t yet come across Bishop Robert Barron then it’s likely that you stay away from the internet. Barron has for a number of years been using YouTube to speak, defend, and promote Christian theology in a place where many of our young people spend their time, the internet. Via film reviews, Q&A’s, and through his highly popular ‘Catholicism’ TV series, Barron has been reaching both lapsed-Roman Catholics and those who have never had any faith with the gospel. So successful has Barron’s media ministry, Word on Fire, been that he was recently sent from his hometown in Chicago, to be an Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles. Amongst his other episcopal responsibilities, he will proclaim the Gospel to the nexus of the media world.
How has he achieved what many of us struggle with, to reach a secular nation for Christ? Has he sold out, and presented a liberal gospel which pats people on the head, without convicting their hearts? A new book, written by a Catholic journalist, but largely quoting Barron’s own words from extensive interviews, seeks to find out. Barron grew up in the post-conciliar period and whilst at secondary school was grabbed by the writings of Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Merton. After attending Notre Dame University he was called to the priesthood, and eventually studied under von Balthsar in Paris, where he came to reject liberal theology, casting himself instead as ‘post-liberal’. On returning to Chicago, and with the backing of his mentor Cardinal George, Barron launched his Word on Fire ministry to reach those who were leaving the Church in their droves. How would Barron do this? The answer for traditional Christians, is as heart-warming as it is unexpected: faithful proclamation of the traditional Gospel in a simple, winsome, and appropriate way. Post-moderns may have rejected objective truth, but they remained committed to beauty and goodness. So Barron became convinced, and his success has borne this out, that one should not start a conversation with an unbeliever on the subject of doctrine, but rather start with beauty and goodness and allow these transcendental realities to guide the unbeliever to the Truth behind them: Jesus Christ.
Barron with Allen unpack this approach and then in subsequent chapters show us how to engage an unbelieving world on topics such as ‘Prayer and the Supernatural,’ ‘The Bible,’ and ‘Obstacles to Faith’ such as the clerical abuse scandal. Barron speaks out against a “beige” Christianity that is bland and apologetic and instead advocates for a message centered on the priority of Christ. A message which challenges both the atheistic assumption that truth is found only through science, the relativistic assumption that personal experience rules the day, and the comparative religion approach which denies the exclusive claims of Christ.
This book is largely auto-biographical, and as a result it is simple, engaging, and easy-to-read. This book shows how one man has spoken the orthodox Christian message to the world, and in the process, demonstrates ways in which might have a go ourselves. So whether you are a lay-person trying to speak to your non-Christian friends, or a parish priest trying to reach those who attend on Sunday, this book will help you to begin to think clearly about evangelisation even as it warms your heart.
Food and Drink: A Biblical Gin!
‘From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
daughters of kings are among your ladies of honour;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir’
For those of us fortunate enough to recite the Divine Office we will from time to time come to recite Psalm 45, and in the Grail Psalter repeat the words: ‘At your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.’ We might then repair to our parsonage houses and drink a gin called Ophir!
In Salisbury, in the Market Place, one of the ancient pubs has recently been refurbished and the first floor has been converted into a gin bar. Here, one can buy many varieties of what an old friend of mine used to refer to as ‘the clean drink.’ One of the gins on offer is Opihr. Before tasting this particular gin, I noted that the spelling was very close to the that of the psalm, but did not reckon that the psalm and the gin were related. Oh, fool that I was! The notes that come with the bottle make it clear that Opihr, pronounced opeer, is the same as spoken of in the psalm. It is the place, probably in southern Arabia, from which King Solomon obtained gold to the grace the Temple in Jerusalem. Now we have it in a bottle!
I have at this point to say that I am bound to like this gin: after all, it comes from Greenalls in Warrington, my home town. However, having bought a bottle thanks to a Father’s Day gift from my daughter, I am even more disposed to enjoy it. It is truly a gin with an oriental spirit. Ophir was situated on the spice route and the oriental spices used to flavour this gin—cubeb berries from Indonesia, black pepper from India and coriander from Morocco—give a truly oriental taste. I usually take it with Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic; the Angostura Bitters added a further complexion to the taste.
You will find this gin for about £20 if you search around. And as you enjoy the taste, you will of course be reminded of the psalm and the Temple in Jerusalem. A truly biblical gin.
Book of the month
THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF THE OXFORD MOVEMENT
Steward J. Brown, Peter B. Nockles, James Pereiro (eds)
OUP, 672pp, hbk, £95
The great historian of English monasticism and sometime Regius Professor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge David Knowles once observed that in his own writing and teaching, ‘it was right to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, not with apologetics but with history in which Christianity was taken for granted as true.’ Sarah Foot, the current Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the University of Oxford, declines to go so far, but aspires in her own work to ‘write and teach a history of Christianity in which I take for granted that those whose pasts I study, unless they provide direct evidence to the contrary, accepted their faith as true.’ Sad to say, such even mindedness and generosity of spirit is increasingly rare in the writing of ecclesiastical history. Today, too much religious history is written as if its protagonists were dupes or dunderheads for believing the things they believed, and this is especially true of religious movements which appear too conservative for today’s supposedly enlightened times. It would appear that the snowflake generation struggles to understand or tolerate religious orthodoxy – even those who make it their profession to study its past.
As The Oxford Handbook of the Oxford Movement has been eagerly awaited by many who study the history of our Anglo-catholic forebears, it is a joy to be able to report that the Handbook is almost entirely free of this defect. As Peter Nockles acknowledges in his chapter on ‘Histories and Anti-Histories,’ the Oxford Movement has always divided opinion sharply and produced many ‘unashamedly partisan’ accounts on each side. Yet this volume does well in treading the fine line between the Scylla of uncritical thinking and the Charybdis of sneering anachronism. A further problem which bedevils many edited collections specific to Anglicanism (historical and ecclesiological) is the absence of chapters by Anglo-catholic writers. So it is also pleasing to report that Colin Podmore, William Davage, Barry Orford, George Westhaver, and the late Geoffrey Rowell are among the contributors here.
The Handbook is an outstanding and valuable addition to the history of the Oxford Movement. But it is not without its frustrations. Like all the books in the Oxford Handbook series, it is too expensive for the general reader to purchase. It is to be hoped that libraries and institutions buy sufficient copies for a paperback release to be considered. The book was a very long time in the publishing, and that shows in a number of ways, primarily in the fact that the bibliographies show very little evidence of books published after 2015. There are some exceptions to that rule – though how many is made harder than necessary to verify by the fact that the traditional (and functional?) bibliography is eschewed in favour of lists of ‘references and further reading’ at the end of each chapter. Along with the mystifying and ongoing insistence by OUP in using the Harvard system of referencing (Irritating, 2017: passim), as opposed to the system of footnoting which bears the University’s name, these quirks make the book considerably less user-friendly than it might otherwise be. In terms of the actual content, the primary frustration is the usual one with books on the Oxford Movement: too much Newman and not enough Pusey, Keble, or anyone else. But the Handbook is far less guilty of this besetting sin than many other similar publications.
Fortunately, the frustration of omissions is more than counterbalanced by the joys of the unexpected and the under-appreciated. Here, the section of the book entitled ‘Cultural expressions, Transmissions and Influences’ is particularly strong, with chapters on Tractarian hymnody, architecture, poetry, fiction, and devotion and liturgy. Indeed, a handbook such as this should introduce the reader to a whole range of subjects, some more familiar than others; and here the Handbook functions admirably. The editors have also succeeded in attracting many of the best-known historians of the Oxford Movement writing today to contribute chapters on their specialisms: in addition to the editors themselves (Nockles on pre-Tractarian Oxford, for example, and James Pereiro on Tradition and Development), examples include Timothy Larsen on Biblical interpretation; Simon Skinner on the British Critic, and social and political commentary; George Herring on the Movement in the parishes; and Mark Chapman on the Movement’s engagement with ecumenism.
The Handbook therefore serves, not so much as a comprehensive history of the Movement as a whole (probably now beyond the scope of a single volume), nor exactly as a beginner’s guide (too much detail about too many things), but rather as a beguiling library of short introductions to different facets of a movement and a time in history which clearly continues to fascinate, intrigue, and resonate today. The interested and diligent reader will be spoilt for choice as to which book to pick up first to continue the many lines of enquiries started here. Not many individuals will choose to buy a copy of this book at its cover price, but every library should own one. Let the snowflakes sneer if they will: our movement deserves a history such as this one.