The Making of Rodin
until 21st November, 2021
Paris will always be Balzac, or at least Rodin’s great bronze Balzac in a dressing gown at 136 Boulevard Raspail, just along from where we used to stay. A century from its making ‘Balzac’ is still a startling work, far removed from ‘The Kiss’ which Rodin used as a ‘huge knick-knack’ to persuade the public to accept the Balzac. But the public weren’t persuaded, the commission was initially rejected and Rodin never saw the work cast in bronze.
Tate Modern’s show gives us some of the original plaster casts for the Balzac, including the actual dressing gown. And even in an exhibition which deliberately creates something of the higgledy-piggledy of the artist’s studio, the towering cast of the author, stripped of the signifiers of the writer’s art, dominates the main gallery as the powerful gaze of the head of genius posed atop the folds of dressing gown commands our attention.
The lifesize-plus Balzac is one of two hundred plaster casts and drawings generously on loan from the Musée Rodin. The loan doesn’t give us Rodin’s complete range, but it is more than enough to be getting on with. And so broad a show allows us to take in the curators’ teaching and weigh it against Rodin’s achievement.
As the sculptor of the modern age (1890s) whose great work featured the writer of the modern age (1850s) it is to be expected that Rodin is hard to pin down. For the curators (2020s) Rodin’s significance – rather than his ability as a sculptor – lies in the anticipations of found art and surrealism in his later work. Visitors to the show will make up their own minds whether an artist is best defined by what comes after her, but not many practicing artists hold to the Whiggish/Marxist/solipsistic view of their craft.
Another aspect of the way the present academic-curatorial guild judges artists by their own contemporary ethico-politico stance is that they need to tell us how Rodin was wanting as a human being. And it is true, and well known, that he did give the impression his works were the result of his genius alone and he didn’t acknowledge his studio assistants. He had a succession of mistresses whom he exploited alongside the long-term mistress he eventually married. He bought antiques which might have been looted in war and he messed around with them. He did not treat his models as equals and he kept his work white when he should have known that his classical models would have been coloured. It is important that these faults are recognised. And it would probably require another exhibition to unravel why a working-class artist with no formal arts or curatorial education needed so much self-belief to drive through his artistic vision – a shrinking violet would not have created the Balzac.
Still, we should be happy that this show gives us so much to enjoy. Part of the enjoyment is to see how Rodin works within the conventions of his time. Whereas Balzac had focussed on the unheroic society around him, Rodin often worked with myths and the great stories from the past, especially Dante’s Divina Commedia. This gave him the famous ‘Thinker’ – an expression of genius and genius expressed in extreme physicality, for Rodin was a man for whom the physical was an expression of character. Other examples in the show of themes taken from Dante are the groups based on the cannibal Ugolino della Gherardesca. And from mythology there are nymphs and satyrs doing things which were carefully hidden under unfinished marble.
Rodin’s most famous completed group taken from history is, of course, the ‘Burghers of Calais.’ In this show the original cast has been repaired and we can see how plaster incarnates a story of human weakness in the face of power, a story of courage and vulnerability. Rodin is a great storyteller who was able to combine a romantic tradition with the world of the ordinary man and woman.
Another joy of the show is just how virtuosic Rodin could be. The first room is devoted to his breakthrough piece, ‘The Age of Bronze’ (again the mythic reference), a life-size sculpture of a Belgian soldier, Auguste Neyt. It is a remarkable evocation of masculinity. So brilliant is this work that critics thought that in some way Rodin had simply cast Neyt himself. He hadn’t, and to prove the point Rodin pointed out the imperfections in the sculpture, imperfections which came to be part of his way of making contrary to the classical tradition.
But even when Rodin critiqued the classical tradition much of his work was in dialogue with it, and not just to satisfy his patrons. The technical skill which that tradition demanded is on display not just with Tate’s ‘The Kiss’ (and it is a little churlish of the curators to flag up so bluntly Rodin’s view of a piece which is one of the gallery’s most famous objets) but also with the small ‘Jeux des Nymphes,’ where the marble is worked into both a beautiful smooth finish and also a strong and charming pattern of striations and marks.
The show is an opportunity to discover and rediscover why Rodin was one of the greatest artists of his age.
NUNS ACROSS THE ORANGE
A History of the Pioneering Anglican Community of St Michael and All Angels, Bloemfontein
612pp, pbk ISBN: 978 1928424628
Available from the publishers from firstname.lastname@example.org; or as an
e-book at https://doi.org/10.18820/ 9781928424635
As the sub-title of Michael Sparrow’s excellent history suggests, the Community of St Michael and All Angels (CSM&AA) was founded to undertake pioneering work in the vast diocese of Bloemfontein. Allan Becher Webb, second bishop of the diocese, determined that a Religious Community of women was vital to his efforts to evangelise such a large area, and set about seeking assistance from established female communities in England. Several offered support, but only Fr Chamberlain’s Sisterhood of St Thomas the Martyr (Oxford) was able to supply practical help. Sister Emma of that community became the first Reverend Mother of the fledgling CSM&AA, and in March 1874 she and a small group of others set sail for Cape Town, and from there on to Bloemfontein where the Community began its work.
The first Anglican sisterhood in South Africa, CSM&AA quickly established itself as a forceful presence in the fields of nursing, education and mission. Under the supervision of Sister Henrietta Stockdale, the Community provided the first training course for nurses in South Africa, the first hospital in the Orange Free State, and the world’s first State Registration of nurses. The Community was equally pioneering in the field of education, opening the first school for black african girls in the Free State, and establishing the prestigious St Michael’s School for Girls. Bit by bit, the Sisterhood grew, both in number and in works. Indeed, the breadth and scope of work undertaken by the Sisterhood, and described here, is astonishing.
CSM&AA was distinctive in a number of ways. Having founded the Community, the diocesan bishop had authority over it in a way that would have made him the envy of his counterparts in England, many of whom despaired of the avowedly autonomous existence of most of the English sisterhoods. On the other hand, Bishop Webb understood what many English diocesans did not, that things such as vows and daily Mass are of the esse of the Religious Life, and not merely high-church trappings. Thus, both were a part of life in CMS&AA from the beginning.
Another thing that made CSM&AA distinctive (though not unique) is that it was founded specifically by white English-speaking Anglicans, to work “across racial barriers, often in the face of some opposition from the White settlers”, far away from their own homeland. This emphasizes the heroic commitment of the sisters (especially the earliest members), but may also explain why CSM&AA (like the Community of the Resurrection and others) did not succeed in attracting indigenous vocations in any number. However, CSM&AA’s significant achievement in this field lay in the founding of the Basotho Community of St Mary at the Cross in 1923. This Community prospered, and in 1959 was placed under the care of the Community of the Holy Name, where it still flourishes as CHN’s Lesotho Province. Thus, the legacy of CSM&AA continues.
It is a remarkable fact that in 1965, CSM&AA had been in existence for 91 years, and had known only three Superiors. Many felt that stability had become stagnation. With hindsight, it is probable that this left the sisterhood particularly ill-equipped to deal with the pressing issues that faced most Religious Communities at this and in the decades which followed: the consequences of Vatican II, failed attempts to modernize and become ‘relevant’, ageing members and too few vocations, and an overarching inability to answer the question, ‘what are we for?’ . In 1973 Canon Trevor Verryn, Director of the Ecumenical Research Unit in Pretoria, was commissioned to advise CSM&AA about its future, as he did also for the Community of the Resurrection and several Roman Catholic communities. His report set out the challenges mentioned above, offered a number of suggestions for moving forwards positively, but also invited the sisters to consider whether it is ‘perhaps the will of God that the CSM&AA, having fulfilled the purpose for which He called it, should now come to an end?’. This proved to be the most prophetic part of Verryn’s report. Despite numerous attempts to adjust to new circumstances, the active life of CSM&AA came to an end surprisingly quickly, though the longevity of the remaining sisters meant the Community itself continued for some time: two of the last three sisters celebrated their 100th birthdays. The last sister died in 2016, and with her came to an end the earthly life of CSM&AA, after 142 years of service.
To write a complete history of a religious community – from foundation to conclusion – is both a gift and a challenge to an author. Fr Sparrow makes the most of the gift, and rises to the challenge. Nuns Across the Orange is a large and detailed book, but well-written and very readable. It captures the excitement, trials and outstanding achievements of the early years; the stability, life and work of the middle years; and the poignant sense of completion in the end years. In the words of Sister (formerly Mother) Mary Ruth, writing when three sisters remained and the Constitution was suspended in 2003: Bishop Webb of Bloemfontein founded the Community ‘to open up a pioneer area in nursing, education, and mission. We recognise that the task is now accomplished.’ Deo Gratias.
The Interior Silence
10 Lessons from Monastic Life
Short Books 2021 £12.99
ISBN: 978 1 78072 454 6
Lockdown and the pandemic have forced thousands of people to examine their lives and to discover they don’t really enjoy the frenetic life style they live. Some in lockdown have found a simpler, calmer, more sensible life and are determined to hold on to it.
Sarah Sands is a journalist and, at the time of writing this book, was Editor of BBC’s Today programme. Her life was filled with news reports, texts, Twitter, meetings, meals out and all that goes with a modern journalistic life. Before the pandemic came along she became fascinated by a ruined monastery at the bottom of her Norfolk garden. What did those nuns do? How did they live before Henry VIII destroyed their life? She began to investigate monasteries. She went to Buddhist monasteries in Japan and Bhutan, Coptic monasteries in Egypt, Catholic monasteries around Europe and Orthodox ones in Greece. She is intrigued, delighted, thrilled by what she finds. She records over and over again the beauty, the silence and the peace of the various monasteries she visits. She speaks with monks and nuns and finds them quiet, sensible, attractive people. She treats them all with respect, never mocks their way of life, tells no stories of negative encounters. Little snippets of her journalistic life appear from time and highlight the peaceful life of the monks. She becomes increasingly aware of the crazy life style she is living and in the end she resigns from Today. The stability and isolation forced on her by the pandemic becomes desirable. Her life has changed.
Sarah writes well and is easy to read. She has read widely and quotations from Augustine, Socrates, Timothy Radcliffe and the people she meets on her journeys help to deepen the experience of her encounters. She says nothing at all about her own faith, though one suspects she has one. She barely mentions God or Christ. Perhaps this is intentional. She is writing for a non-religious world, a world that thinks God is irrelevant. Such a world is put off by the mention of God. Yet the people of that world still respond to silence, beauty and goodness. They see, some of them, the meaningless character of their lives. Can they at least visit the silence of monasticism and discover what they have lost in the crazy, overloaded world in which we live? If they can that would be good. If we in the monastic life can offer it in a meaningful way, we should.
However, one must add that beauty, silence and peace are not the ultimate aim of Christian monastic life. They are the means to an end, and the end is God. The monastic life is not a life style choice; it is a response to the call of Christ. Otherwise it makes no sense for those who live it. The silence and beauty are important as they direct us to God, but it is just as important to learn every day how to treat one’s brothers and sisters, and visitors, as Christ. The longer I live the monastic life the more I realise that it is a life trying to live with Christ, as Christ, in response to Christ. The constant failure to do that opens us up to the joyful humility we need to accept the loving grace of God.
Nicolas Stebbing CR
WHY DANTE MATTERS
An Intelligent Person’s Guide
206pp, hbk ISBN: 9781472951038
This 700th anniversary year of Dante’s death has brought about a small crop of new titles. There should be more, but Dante is too medieval, too Italian, too European, too theological, and too Florentine. This is a great pity because the multifaceted genius is worth exploring and even more so for anyone of faith. It is especially notable when taking in Dante’s contribution to Christendom and the development of spiritual thought in the western world. Dante was an irrefutable Christian; his work articulates religious belief and poetic vision. Few minds have matched him since, and he is peerless in the towering achievement of the Divine Comedy, his great and final masterpiece.
That work alone is described by John Took, Emeritus Professor of Dante Studies at University College London, as ‘monumental…the great work of Dante’s maturity, its greatness being manifold’ in his Why Dante Matters – An Intelligent Person’s Guide. Took has also published a biography of Dante but this slim volume is more of an intellectual survey of Dante’s output with a particular eye on existentialism. Took is an admirer of Paul Tillich (quoted extensively at the front) and here he gives us Dante with the “existentialist point of view”. He quotes Heidegger too, ironically, and without reference to the part he played in Tillich’s expulsion from Nazi Germany. This is squarely, therefore, a German Dante to add to the American Dante of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, or the Irish Dante of Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, and Heaney, and so on. Yet it is not specifically literary because Took’s interest is more in phenomenology and a distinctly Schleiermacherean focus on ego and the self. At times it teeters perilously close to a Gnostic reading of Dante, and despite Tillich’s thought being a stepping-off point, there is no deep engagement with his systematic theology. Anyone looking for a dialectic between Dante and Tillich will not find it here. Phrases such as “courage to be” are imported, but a discussion of how Tillich’s ‘ground of being’ might correlate with Dante’s epistemology is frustratingly avoided.
It is a short book (200 pages) and much of it is taken up with long passages from Dante’s main works followed by a translation. The opening of the Inferno is quoted five (five!) times, at least ten lines each time, although the translation does vary. The reader must assume that Professor Took is responsible for the translations from Italian (also Latin) as they are not attributed to anyone else. In this he marshals his skill artfully, and demonstrates a lifetime of Dantean companionship. The lines and words are sometimes over-manipulated to make a certain point, and he does not attempt either terza rima or iambic pentameter. Took’s own style is somewhat baroque and could give John Milbank and Rowan Williams a run for their money in the more obtuse examples of their output. His Proustian paragraphs and convoluted sentence structure look one moment like ‘academese’ and at another risk getting the reader as lost as Dante in the thickets of his deep dark wood.
That said, there is some original and thought-provoking insight here. Dante, of course, wrote in Italian and is rightly considered the father of that language, so Took’s analysis of lingua da sì as both the personal language of authenticity, as well as the only or best language of the vernacular, is valuable. He looks in detail at the Convivio and Vita Nuova (although sadly not De Monarchia) charting Dante’s exploration of love in varying forms throughout his life and work. Interpreting the Comedy as a resurrection journey is not entirely new, but he gives it some freshness and amplification, even if his ‘transhumanity’ description of the Inferno stops short of a more distinctly Christian transfiguration. Elsewhere he toys with the possibility of predeterminism in Dante’s work (specifically the Convivio) and skirts around reconciliation themes without looking at atonement theories and what would have been Dante’s own Anselmian reading. The Augustinian and Thomist elements are not brought out very much, and Dante’s political life (not least the reason for his exile) is hardly touched upon. It would be difficult to do so many of those strands justice and his approach on the whole works for its disciplined attention.
Ultimately, and rewardingly, Took gives us in Dante the ethos and contours of love, exploring how love or concern for oneself is what compels towards deeper and greater unity with God. This “love to the loveless shown” is at the heart of Dante’s life, thought, and philosophy – even those he condemned to everlasting torture in the Inferno, for there is much pity too. The experiential process is therefore one of self-discovery and brings the individual, when directed aright, closer to salvation.
Took does assume the reader knows the Comedy well, or has at least read it. In the Suggested Further Reading he cites impressive recent translations (Mandelbaum, Kirkpatrick) as well as classics (Sinclair) but not Dorothy L. Sayers or even H.F. Cary (Anglican clergyman and the first full-length blank verse poetic translation of the Comedy in 1814). Also left out are the Hollanders’ version (2000-7) and the fascinating full-poem attempt by the late Clive James (2013). A single-minded selection once again. Took’s book is a welcome addition to the Dante shelf all the same. He has original things to say, even if not always as clear as they could be, and he proves how Dante continues to be relevant and enthralling even today, eight centuries on.
Book of the month
The Anglican Patrimony in Catholic Communion
The Gift of the Ordinariates
- Tracey Rowland
T&T Clark, 2021 £21.99 240pp
In 2009 Anglicanorum Coetibus made provision for an Anglican Ordinariate, intended to be both a ‘home from home’ for Anglicans coming into Communion with the Holy See, but also to “bring back home a treasure to be shared’ by the entire Catholic Church.
These 11 essays seek to celebrate this initiative and to explore this treasure of Anglican Patrimony as experienced through its very diverse contributors. And here is the rub. One is left with the very familiar feeling that, as with many things about which we might care deeply, ‘We know it when we see it’ but how hard are its parameters to define. Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that the most coherent essays in this book are those that deal with an Anglican approach to liturgy, particularly as formed and informed by the Book of Common Prayer, and with its characteristic culture of pastoral care. Repeatedly there is the sense that the greatest gift that Roman Catholics may receive is that of a distinctive liturgical language: “expressing not merely formality but the reverence that is due the sacred offering. In a world overwhelmed with mundanity, language that exalts, lifting up the mind and heart, expresses value, the worth that underlines the very notion of worship’. Words that the C of E may well take note in its apparent rush to relevance and inclusion.
But is there more to Anglican Patrimony than a reserved beauty in liturgy and courtesy and homeliness in the conduct of pastoral ministry and parochial fellowship? And are Anglican and Englishness one and the same, as a number of these chapters would seem to imply? How significant is it that the three established ordinariates are in the UK, North America and Australia, where English language and culture remain a shaping norm? Significantly there is no reference in these pages to what is to be celebrated and received from where Anglicanism is now most flourishing, in the Global South.
Other important elements of the Anglican inheritance are recognised but, in two areas especially, deserve a deeper consideration than found here. In ‘The virtue of religion: the irreducible essence of the Anglican patrimony’ James Bradley, whilst celebrating the liturgical legacy, wisely recognises that this is not so much the essence of the patrimony, but rather a vehicle for it, and from there proceeds to an exploration of its moral and ethical dimensions: “Religion as Virtue: the object of religious obedience, moral living and worship is the same – God”. Yet more could be said of a tradition which stresses that moral case reasoning and spirituality, both devotional and ascetical, are lined; that ethical insight may be drawn from plural sources and not simply Scripture, or the decisions of popes or presbyteries on their own; and that in the formation of conscience the exercise of reason and the work of the Holy Spirit combine. Hence an Anglican tradition that has linked moral theology to pastoral theology and spiritual direction, in contrast to a Roman emphasis conjoining Confession and Canon Law. “Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore of nicely-calculated less or more” – Wordsworth
Similarly an excellent piece on the Caroline Divines sketches a characteristically Anglican approach to theological scholarship; one emphasising Patristics (especially the Greek Fathers), the application of reason as a critical and imaginative faculty in the discernment of religious truth; a typological reading of contemporary events through the lens of scripture , a ‘Divinity’ which links integrity of study to holiness of life, and an ordered freedom informed by a reticent moderation (great religious truths are sometimes best served by defining less). How much I would have liked something on how this was taken forward by such as Pusey and Keble, Westcott and Gore, Mascall and Farrer, Michael Ramsey and Rowan Williams.
As with any collection of essays the quality is uneven, ranging from the scholarly to the whimsical. The idiosyncratic pieces on ‘Monarchy’ and ‘Eton’ will seem quaint to even the most English of minds and add little to our understanding of Patrimony or Ordinariate. Others are illuminating beyond this narrow scope, and are worthy of reading in their own right. Cardinal Levada’s excellent essay sets the establishment of the ordinariates in the context of ‘Receptive Ecumenism’ – a celebration and reception by the wider church of what of the older Christian tradition was preserved and developed to a high degree in separated parts of the Christian church, thereby bringing to perennial truths and elements of holiness a new focus and stress as, in a particular context, they have been lived. The Ordinariates are also seen as logically consistent with the consensus achieved through ARCIC and its agreed statements. Of note here is a tacit acceptance by Rome that any commitment to ARCIC and its outcomes, if it is to have integrity, must , in some sense, be ongoing and binding. What might this say about an Anglican Communion perception of its own participation, and its integrity as a partner in dialogue?
A similar question is raised by Steven Lopes’ useful and insightful account of how the ordinariates came into being. There are hints also of what might have been, and maybe the question as to whether the provision will prove to have been ‘too little too late’.
There is much worth pondering by Anglicans and RCs alike. Timothy Perkins reminds us that Evangelisation involves a drawing of all into that wholeness that unites each soul with God, and with others in one communion and fellowship within the larger church. Placed alongside a thoughtful piece on Newman with his stress on the role of personal influence and relationships in communicating the Gospel, and how serious evangelisation means that ‘the church must be prepared for converts, as well as converts must be prepared for the church’ – I found another word for our times. As, too, in Newman’s prescient concern that: ‘despite manifest evidence of sincerity and sanctity in its ranks, Anglicanism, considered as a system of compromise and equivocation (one lacking of visible centre of unity and a living magisterium) would over time reveal it’s fundamentally liberalising character as a fatal solvent to truth, though perhaps thereby sharpening for some of its adherents he imperative summons to a deeper, truer conversion’.
However hard it may be to define, the richness of Anglican patrimony is real. It behoves those who are Anglican Catholics to reflect deeply on how to faithfully embody and bear witness to it in a church which institutionally may seem no longer to care, and for those in the ordinariates to as a still fragile minority, to strive to keep the rumour of this inheritance alive. To that end ongoing conversation between us is vital too, in the faithful stewardship of the treasure that we share.
+ Michael Langrish