Time and Space
Royal Observatory Greenwich
The Royal Observatory Greenwich is in the process of a £15 million makeover, and the first part of this was opened a couple of weeks ago. The rest is scheduled for the spring of 2007.
The Royal Observatory, a well known and familiar building, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren for Charles II. It stands on the crest of a hill in Greenwich Park, looking down over London and the Thames. The famous Octagon Room, originally called the Great Star Room, was designed to accommodate the long seventeenth century telescopes, with tall narrow windows through which they could be focused. It still looks much as it did when Wren designed it. The original Tompion clocks made for the room in 1676 are still in situ. Also to be seen is the domestic accommodation provided for the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. It is attractively furnished and comfortably untidy.
The Time and Space galleries which follow take us from the early days of navigation up to the precision instruments in current use all over the world. It focuses especially on the struggle to find a precise way of measuring longitude, which was essential to accurate navigation.
The story of the search for an accurate way of telling longitude started with a disaster – in 1707 Sir Clowdisley Shovell, 1,200 men and four ships perished on the rocks of the Scilly Isles due to faulty navigation. They had miscalculated their position with tragic results. But this was only one among hundreds of shipwrecks, and clearly a reliable way of measuring longitude was essential to the success of survival of a maritime nation.
This part of the story is illustrated by some fine marine paintings, showing dramatic storms, ships wrecked in huge seas, and the tiny figures of sailors clinging to rocks and spars.
Charles II’s offer of £20,000 for an exact way to measure longitude was an enormous sum. It attracted a variety of so-called solutions. Timing, synchronized with zero at Greenwich, was essential for accurate calculation. One (unsuccessful!) suggestion is demonstrated in a charming little model. A dog, previously scratched with a knife sprinkled with a special powder, would be taken on board ship. When, at noon precisely at Greenwich, a knife was plunged into a pot of the same powder, the dog wherever it was would yelp punctually.
John Harrison’s clocks, which after years of research and experiment, produced a solution to the problem, are on display in these galleries. With their complex brass springs, pendula and counterbalances, they are both beautiful and fascinating mechanically. Alongside them are interactive displays, laid out like a working table – touch a medallion and a scroll and further information instantly appears.
There is much else to be seen here – the beautiful chronometers that came to be used, the display of their tiny parts, with a moving magnifying glass to help one to appreciate their meticulous engineering, the navigational instruments, and the lunar tables and charts, whose increasing accuracy, and therefore usefulness, was the result of observations made at the Royal Observatory.
The modern applications of time and space are shown in displays of the latest timekeeping devices. The importance of how time is measured, used and shared is explored and illustrated. There is much to see at the Observatory, and there is more to come.
The Royal Observatory is open every day. Free.
SEVENTEENTH CENTURY ENGLAND
Twenty years ago, when I taught seventeenth century English political history (most of which I have now forgotten), the battleground over which historians fought was the Civil War and its causes. The late Conrad Russell led the charge against his familial and historical ancestors in discrediting the lingering Whig view of the early Stuarts. There were many lively skirmishes along the way. Who now remembers or cares about the rise or otherwise of the gentry? As shibboleths were undermined and citadels fell, lesson notes had to be revised, new perspectives had to be included, the latest introductions had to be photocopied and distributed to the Upper Sixth. Teaching seventeenth century history was almost as exciting as living through it.
Never a Whig historian, I was on the side of the revisionists, but now Richard Cust is described in the biographical blurb of Charles I: A Political Life (Pearson, 192pp, £19·99) as one who has ‘helped to set the agenda for a ‘post-revisionist’ account of early Stuart politics,’ and I begin to feel old. He has written a good book about an elusive character.
King Charles has been as unfortunate in his biographers as he was in life. Not that the books about him are bad, but you finish reading them, be they hagiographical or critical, with little sense of the man. Richard Cust writes an avowedly political life and does it very well and we seem a little nearer to the personality of that complex individual. He is not spared for his political faults and mis-judgements, but there are several telling insights into his personality, even if much, conventionally, turns on his ‘difficult and precarious childhood.’
Like many current history books, this begins with a revealing vignette. Matthew Wren’s verdict on the twenty-two-year-old Prince of Wales is acute and prophetic: ‘[Charles’] learning is not equal to his father’s, yet I know his judgement to be very right; and as for his affections for upholding the doctrine and discipline of the church, I have more confidence of him than of his father, in whom they say is so much inconstancy in some particular cases.’ As he is speaking to Lancelot Andrewes, William Laud and Richard Neile, you can see how Wren is picking his way gingerly through the undergrowth and nettles, yet his verdict is borne out by time and circumstance. King Charles was consistent in his adherence to a non-puritan and anti-Calvinist Church of England and its episcopal nature. He held to the theory of the Divine Right of Kings as much as an expression of a political imperative as a profoundly religious sensibility. He was uxorious, cultivated, educated, with a highly developed aesthetic sense and taste but he lacked the flexibility, the political guile and cunning, the ‘native wit or assured grasp of ideas’ possessed by his father, James I and VI.
King Charles emerges as a much better politician than some of his critics would allow but, obviously, he was not a successful politician, further proving the late Enoch Powell’s celebrated dictum that all political lives end in failure. That of King Charles also ended in a martyr’s death, but one into which he had effectively manoeuvred himself, so that it was almost impossible for his captors to do anything else with him. This is in every way a lively and fresh consideration of King Charles that can be highly recommended.
David Cressy’s England on Edge: Crisis and Revolution 1640–1642 (OUP, 462pp, £25) is a rather more dogged read but no less rewarding. He has read and researched extensively in the primary material and sources and his book is rich in incident as he seeks to provide a conspectus of the social, religious and political feel of the country on the eve of the Civil War. It is cultural history in its widest scope. He finds a febrile and anxious society in which the rise of a radical sectarianism and the determined orthodoxy of Laudianism undermines the delicate compromise of the Church of England, and all is to a degree exacerbated, perhaps hitherto underestimated, by the nascence of a popular press with wide circulation and inflammatory content. He makes an impressive case for a world turned upside down in these two crucial years; ‘the revolution before the Revolution,’ as he puts it.
He identifies military mobilizations, disorders, disobedience to orders, the existence of standing armies, the King’s loss of grip on the governance of the three kingdoms, rebellion and open defiance, the questioning and demystification of the Crown, open assaults on the sacred office of the King and contempt for the King himself, the forced removal and execution of the King’s chief ministers, the emergence of the House of Commons as a self-conscious representation of the people which went beyond mere rhetoric. There was a widening of public affairs to those beyond the former political elite, which brought with it an increased partisanship and disputatious discourse fuelled by a popular press barely under any constraint. The destabilization of the Church of England brought in its wake a breakdown in deference and, in one historian’s lapidary phrase, ‘a cyclonic shattering of the spirit.’ Turmoil and revolution, a society and a polity cut adrift from its anchors and spinning out of control. As Dr Cressy remarks, in his own sharply etched words: ‘They found themselves in a war that nobody wanted, but nobody knew how to avoid.’
The clue to Tim Harris’ book, Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy 1685–1720 (Allen Lane, 640pp, £30) lies in his preface: ‘There is…a certain irony behind an atheistical Protestant dedicating a book on the Glorious Revolution to two Catholics… If I had been around in the late seventeenth century I suspect that I would have leaned towards radical Protestant dissent.’ His approach seems neither revisionist nor post-revisionist but pre-revisionist and takes us back to something of Lord Macaulay’s liberal moral temper. When Professor Harris comments on Lauderdale’s charge against King James II, the last Catholic King of England regnant, that he had all the weaknesses of King Charles I but none of his strengths, ‘given that Charles I had not only brought civil war upon himself in 1642 but suffered execution at the hands of the parliamentary radicals in January 1649, one might wonder what his strengths as king had been,’ we know which side he is on. It does not seem to be the side of complexity, nuance, shading, unpartisan scholarship. Perhaps Professor Harris should read Dr Cust’s book.
The strengths of the book lie in the sweep of the muscular prose and the clarity of the argument, locating political events in a setting wider than the King, Court and Parliament, and in placing the Glorious Revolution within the context of three kingdoms. It is too often overlooked that there were three nations, England, Scotland and Ireland, with one monarch. There were different polities to be taken into account, different strains on the body politic and ecclesiastical governance. He also places the principal causes for the revolution internally, arguing that James was brought down by internal domestic difficulties rather than ousted by an external invasion. He further seeks to instil a genuinely revolutionary flavour to the revolution. He does not subscribe to the view that it was a conservative re-alignment, nor does he see it as part of the ancien regime of the long eighteenth century.
He concludes his vigorous analysis by rejecting the contention that James II and VII sought toleration and freedom of worship and belief for Catholics, but that he sought deliberately to impose a Catholic absolutism throughout his realms. He fell when his subjects refused to co-operate and he lost the support of the political elite, his natural supporters, and the Church of England, once a power in the land. To a large extent the Glorious Revolution was the working out of unresolved tensions at the Restoration in 1660. Professor Harris’ book on the Restoration and this one on the Revolution were conceived as one. Taken together, they offer a majestic and supremely confident re-assertion of a Whiggish (if not Whig) interpretation of history and of the triumph of Protestant libertarian, quasi-democratic values against those of the Catholic absolutist. It is an exhilarating read but not one that I found entirely convincing.
Rather more convincing, albeit a tad more prosaic, is Edward Vallance’s The Glorious Revolution: 1688 and Britain’s Fight for Liberty (Little Brown, 372pp, £20). He too places a premium on ‘public opinion’ and the dissemination of news beyond the confines of Westminster and the Court into the burgeoning coffee houses and their vigorous political discourse. He sees the desertion of his children Anne and Mary as crucial to King James’ flight and marks the final disintegration of the House of Stuart. Although the title of his book indicates a consideration of but one year, he tops and tails his account with fine accounts of the reign of Charles II from the Popish Plot, and with a similarly attractive account of the beginning of the Hanoverian hegemony. In political and religious terms, he picks up on something like the dislocation of sensibility that T.S. Eliot identified in the literature of the seventeenth century. That century was contentious and strikingly manic, and the Glorious Revolution did not quell the national neurosis. The debate continues, and the appearance of these books around the same time indicates that there is still much mileage and fascination in the period.
THE STATE WE ARE IN
Gibson Square, 240pp, hbk
1 903933463, £14·99
In this book the philosopher Anthony O’Hear takes a rather dyspeptic look at the dystopian state. The State we are in has the right amount of ambiguity and double meaning to signal his outlook. He looks at a wide range of cultural icons and related phenomena: shopping, entertainment, drugs, politics, education, language, sport, the internet, nature and work. He takes as his starting point the image of the Cave that Plato used in The Republic. There Plato posits a group of people imprisoned in a darkened cave, restrained, tied and forced to face the back of the cave. They cannot turn their heads and can see only the wall. Behind them is a fire, and between them and the fire is an elevated ramp across which people pass carrying objects, or moving puppets. All the prisoners see is the shadows cast and that, and that alone, constitutes their reality.
After a time one of the prisoners is released, forced to face the fire. He is dazzled by the light and he does not wish to admit that what he had been looking at on the wall was but an illusion, essentially meaningless, a fantasy, and he wants to turn back to the wall, which is where his reality is constituted. But further required to go out of the cave into the sunlight, he is eventually able to look at the sun and realize that it is the source of all life, energy and activity. He returns to the cave but his fellows, convinced that their fantasy is their reality, mock him and suggest that his sight is ruined. They prefer to remain, literally, unenlightened.
O’Hear’s thesis is that the culture we inhabit is the cave, that the lives of many are both a fantasy and a sentimentalization of reality, blighted and blinded. This trenchant passage may be taken as typical:
‘A deeply worrying, though entirely predictable manifestation of the fact that the politics of sentimentality still rules the roost is the whole farrago of the Live8 concert and the Make Poverty History campaign. We defined the politics of sentimentality as a form of politics in which feeling is all and doing means nothing. These campaigns are not even collecting money from their supporters. Their supporters are supposed simply to show that, in their millions, they care, mainly by going to a free rock concert, wearing white wrist bands and shouting insults and obscenities at politicians. How any of this is supposed to help starving Africans is entirely obscure, though no doubt it makes those involved feel good.’
O’Hear is particularly good on the sentimental view of children and of learning that now infests the manifestly absurd education system. He rightly stigmatizes the virtual abandonment of any semblance of a classical education: there are so few studying Greek at A Level that it is a statistical nullity. Year after year, as the number and percentages of passes rise, and it is pointed out that the improvement is simply not credible (between 1988 and 2003 the number of awards at A and B at GCSE has risen by a staggering 145%), those with reservations are told by the succession of feeble Education Ministers to celebrate rather than carp. It is all an illusion.
Most of the targets in this book deserve the thrashing that O’Hear gives them. It will discontent the liberal intelligentsia, infuriate the politicians whose bluff has been called, send flutters through the dove-cotes of left-leaning, humanist philosophers, and it should shame the bishops and clergy who cannot resist the pull of the passing bandwagon, and pigs might fly.
His remedy is partly a religious one to which Catholics could readily subscribe, and partly derived from Plato who saw a turning away from the fantasies projected on the wall of the Cave which beguiled towards what is true and real. That, as Professor O’Hear avers, is the function of philosophy. Whatever the solution, the analysis is a terrifically enlivening read.
THIS HOLY MAN
Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony
DLT, 250pp, pbk
0 232 52568 4, £17·95
My introduction to Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh was through his conversations with Marghanita Laski, televised on two successive Sunday evenings in 1970, under the title The Atheist and the Archbishop. The generosity, understanding, concern for truth and humility shown by both participants made their dialogue a bright light in a naughty world. (Those who complain about the content of present-day religious broadcasts need to be reminded just how dire things were during the Sixties and Seventies, when the Sunday Religious Discussion television slot seemed almost invariably to consist of two seated sceptics scoffing at religion across a jug of water.) The texts of their talks were published in one of Metropolitan Anthony’s books, and it is no surprise to learn from Gillian Crow that he and Laski became friends.
Anthony Bloom, as he was known then, was a gift to television. His appearance, his deep voice with the Russian inflections, his high intelligence, his seriousness, his humour and his personal conviction made him in the best sense charismatic. The same qualities could be conveyed when he spoke before a live audience. When Fr Mark Gibbard ssje attended an ecumenical gathering at the end of the Fifties, he found that ‘it was Fr Anthony who became the pied piper of the conference.’ Furthermore, at a time when the Science vs. Religion question was being hotly debated, Fr Anthony had the advantage of coming from a scientific background, having trained and practised as a doctor.
Yet there was another side to this magnetic personality. Carefully concealed was a man more shy and insecure than the public image suggested. Inner tensions acquainted him with the experience of depression, and he could reveal rough edges in his relations with others. Fr Gibbard, for all his admiration, remarked, ‘Archbishop Anthony is also, I think, so exigent and stern – his own upbringing may help us to understand this – as to be in danger of discouraging some of those he wishes to help.’ As a bishop he could on occasion cause resentment by his high-handedness, a temptation all too easy for those who have spent a long time in positions of authority.
The present memoir is written by the Diocesan Secretary of the Russian Patriarchal Diocese of Sourozh, who knew Metropolitan Anthony well. She has produced a readable and informative account of a remarkable life, and to her credit she makes no attempt to smooth over the uneasy aspects of her subject’s character. She shows great insight in her description of Metropolitan Anthony’s spirituality, which had its roots in the mystical but was always concerned to be practical. In his private dealings with individuals he was refreshingly free from rules of thumb in the guidance he offered to them. Indeed, he could surprise people by his openness to new ideas and possibilities. It will astonish many readers of this book to learn how sympathetic he was to the ordination of women, though not to the step which the Church of England took in the matter. For so eminent a churchman, he was often healthily un-ecclesiastical. He was keen to warn those he helped against becoming too preoccupied with Church matters. Consider his advice to a young mother: ‘Don’t come to church every week. On one Sunday a month say to God, ‘Lord, stay at home with us today.’’
By the end of the book the reader has a clear picture of this complex, contradictory, energetic and inspiring man who made such a great contribution to Christian life in this country and beyond it. The suffering endured by believers in Russia during Metropolitan Anthony’s life is the backdrop to his own story, as well as a challenge to the ease of Western Christian life. It was a blessing that he lived to see and celebrate the collapse of the Soviet atheist nightmare.
The Hospital Chaplain’s Handbook
Canterbury, 190pp, pbk
1 85311 477 4, £14·99
This is an important and impressive book, just the thing for those involved in healthcare chaplaincy, and for clergy who visit their people in hospital. It offers vital tools for the job, celebrates good practice in a user-friendly way and helps us all give spiritual care that is patient-centred and helpful to their flourishing.
After all, the NHS aims to provide truly holistic care, looking after the whole person as well as dealing with the illness. A vital part of the process focuses on the spiritual part of every human being of all faiths and none. Sickness brings up the age-old questions: ‘What have I done to deserve this? Am I being punished?’ Life and death situations focus the angst in all of us, and illnesses often challenge people to think about their lives differently. Spirituality and belief structures sit at the heart of such experiences and give ways of coping. They also can help people find hope, peace and an inner harmony in the midst of the existential challenges illness inevitably brings.
If someone is to move towards health, these spiritual issues need sensitive and loving handling by the whole team and the priest’s job is to ensure this happens. Mark Cobb’s book will help as it gives practical guidance on what chaplaincy is in the brave new world of the third millennium, what chaplains do and how chaplaincy can and should be done in the NHS. Here is a manual of practical theology grounded in the incarnational model. Here we see how to put words into flesh and big ideas into practical common-sense ways of touching Christ in the person of our neighbour.
Amidst all the changes of our world and society, this traditional role of the priest continues. The role of hospital chaplains and the context of modern day health care have changed radically in recent decades, yet the vitality of chaplaincy has never been greater as evidenced by a record number of chaplains working in today’s health service.
Mark Cobb’s book sets it in context. He begins by looking at today’s NHS then explores the spiritual dimension of illness and injury. A useful description of pastoral care in a clinical context follows, including good manners for clergy on wards! Working with other health care professionals is covered too. They see us clergy as people who have a specific job to do, vital to patient well-being and they expect us to do it well
Ministry across the life-course including support for dying and bereaved people is covered impressively. As a hospice chaplain and former hospice nurse too, I like to see how people tackle this area so this is praise indeed!
Multi-faith issues are given a rightful mention – with Cobb, I feel difference and diversity are to be celebrated as they enrich any community. We have much we can learn from one another and in these days of bigotry and intolerance, Chaplaincy can be a model of how people of different race, culture and religion can live and work together in harmony for the common good. Again professional practice, boundaries, record keeping are mentioned and a detailed Code of Practice as used by all Chaplains shows that we mean business. We want to give the best service possible and be fully accountable as we monitor, evaluate and reflect on our practice and follow-up. Working as an effective team with volunteers and the wider community concludes the book, then a useful set of prayers and liturgies whets our appetites to get among the sick and those who love and care for them and bring a word of hope and a healing touch. Go out and buy it now and put its words into flesh in your daily work and encounters.
Fr Paul Greenwell ssc
is Chaplain of Harrogate District Hospital and St Michael’s Hospice
THE HERMENEUTICS OF THE HAPPY ENDING IN JOB 42.7–17
De Gruyter, 190pp, hbk
3 11 018412 5, [T68]
The common approach to the book of Job is to make a clear distinction between the short prose story and the long poetic dialogues which have been slotted into it. All the drama of the problem of innocent suffering is to be found in the latter. While the opening two chapters, where Satan tests God about testing Job, are interesting, this epilogue on Job’s restoration, coming as it does after the climax of God’s appearance in the whirlwind, seems dull and banal. The only detail one tends to remember are the rather odd names of his three beautiful daughters, Jemima, Cinnamon and Eye-shadow.
Ngwa manages to show, by the thoroughness of his exposition, that these ten verses have taken account of the dialogues and that they do contribute to the tensions and resolutions of the theological issues posed. Job’s life and character have changed: there is a maturity to his restoration, and a quieter strength after his testing. It draws the book to an end by reintroducing the complexities and inconsistencies of everyday life. It brings us down to earth after the great vision of God, and provides release from the drama by its happy ending.
This book is like an archaeological dig. All is laid out in meticulous detail, and we are amazed that there could be so much of value in so few verses.
THE BLACKWELL COMPANION TO CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
Edited by Arthur Holder
Blackwell, 568pp, hbk
1 4051 0247 0, £85
A dictionary of spirituality is a collection of examples alphabetically arranged and in this way it differs from a companion which is a guidebook or handbook with a different format. Like the other Blackwell Companions to Religion, ‘it represents the most significant recent scholarship and knowledge in the field,’ and is ‘a comprehensive single-volume introduction to the subject which takes a thoroughly interdisciplinary, broadly ecumenical approach.’ The editor, without imposing a single definition on the contributors, invited them to reflect on ‘the lived experience of Christian faith and discipleship.’ These eminent scholars are from worldwide locations.
The volume’s six parts cover approaches to the study of Christian spirituality, biblical foundations, historical developments, theological perspectives, interdisciplinary dialogue partners, alongside selected topics in contemporary Christian spirituality. The focus is on ‘experience’ in the Pauline sense where ‘spiritual’ equates with pneumatikos, life in the Holy Spirit, and is contrasted to ‘flesh’ or sarx, which avoids any dualism, and where the emphasis is on spirituality as inclusive of the whole of life, ‘politics, economics, art, sexuality, science’ and the explicitly religious. A common agreement is that Christian spirituality is ‘inherently interdisciplinary’ and, though coming from a variety of disciplinary locations, these scholars are engaged in a common conversation about a subject they find fascinating for what it is and not merely to their own area of expertise. Some starting from the theological perspective are concerned with what makes ‘spirituality’ distinctive from biblical studies, history or theology. Those whose starting point is social or natural sciences begin with spirituality as a universal human phenomenon, the capacity for self-transcendence, and then seek how the particularly Christian tradition defines this.
The editor’s introduction gives a brief synopsis of the essays in each part of the Companion. Part I, ‘What is Christian Spirituality?’ is about definitions and methodologies, while two essays in Part II deal with ‘Scripture and Christian Spirituality’ in the Old and New Testaments. The six essays in Part III survey ‘Christian Spirituality in History,’ presented synthetically rather than in separate schools. ‘The Roman Empire 100–600’ surveys the life of early Christianity in liturgy, devotion, martyrdom, asceticism and monasticism. This is followed by a survey of Byzantine and Syrian writers up to 1700, with a variety of genres that include hymnody, doctrinal treatises, spiritual guidance, hagiography and polemic.
In ‘The Medieval West 600–1450,’ a multicultural synthesis is seen emerging, with expanding roles for women, mystical literature, radical poverty and suffering, but also intolerance, fear of diversity, and an over-reliance on texts. The essay on the period 1450–1700 covers the Reformation: Protestant, Catholic, Anglican, Anabaptist and Quaker. Post-Enlightenment influences since 1700 in North America and Europe illustrate the changing spiritual options produced by individuals, while another essay examines spirituality in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania.
Six essays in Part IV examine theology’s constructive engagement with lived Christian experience and the place of Maximus the Confessor, Aquinas, Traherne and John of the Cross, the Church, the Trinity, Christology, the Holy Spirit, the Human Person, Sacramentality and Ethics in Christian spirituality. The seven essays of Part V are concerned with the place of the Natural and Human Sciences, Feminist Studies, Ritual and Theology, while Part VI surveys special contemporary topics such as Experience, Mysticism, Interpretation, Nature, Practice, Liberation and Interfaith Encounter.
This is a rich and comprehensive resource not only for theologians but also for ordinands, parish priests and teachers. It is nicely printed on good paper, well-referenced and indexed, making it a springboard for further study. There is much in it to encourage though you are bound to find things in it with which you will disagree. Do not be put off by the £85, because it is well worth having.
St Michael’s Foundation, 198pp, pbk
0 9547157 2 1, [£11·99]
‘Why should men love the Church? She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.’ This quotation from T.S. Eliot encapsulates much of the message Peter Mullen tries to convey in this his latest volume. His book also proves that Catholics who use the Prayer Book do indeed have something to offer our constituency, something which many choose to forget. From the year which sees the 450th anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, it is good to see a clergyman willing to use the Book of Common Prayer.
Whilst he may not always have the timeless prose of Cranmer, Fr Mullen succeeds in speaking to the needs of the situation in which he ministers. He writes in a simple and easy to understand manner, and I cannot fault his logic (‘let God be God and there is no impediment to belief in the Virgin Birth…or other miracles’). He warns against following the ‘false Christs’ of our own time, and their doctrines so often promulgated by scholars and theologians.
It is Fr Mullen’s reflection on the Annunciation that I found most useful. He reminds us that we are bound to obey the word of God, just as Mary did. So often our mantra is ‘everybody has a right to their own opinion;’ but this does not work. It leads us to reverse the commandments of God. Thus in response to the call for ‘no graven images,’ we find ourselves ‘in thrall to images and makeovers.’ When commanded not to steal, modern society would pardon the thief and ‘have the homeowner arrested for protecting his property.’ Throughout society ‘traditional wisdom is despised’ and yet the answer is so simple. We must follow Mary’s example and utter the words ‘Be it unto me according to thy word’ – this is the ultimate ‘radical call to obedience.’
Whilst there are some slight typographical errors, I would commend Fr Mullen’s book to the readers of this journal. It is well structured and the placing of the text of the lesson beside the sermon allows the reader to reflect better on the passage. Having been delivered at lunchtime masses, this book could easily be used by someone in their lunch break who was unable to go to church but wanted a religious element to their day.
Perhaps priests might take a leaf out of Fr Mullen’s book and introduce a minute sermon into their midweek liturgies? At a time when there is so little religious education in our schools and society in general, we as a church need to take every chance we can get in order to preach the Gospel. Fr Mullen’s work at St Michael’s, Cornhill, shows that we do not need to toe the modern liberal line in order to be relevant – it is time to stand up and be counted. If we fail to do this now, might not our house, the Church, be ‘left unto us desolate’?
On Promiscuous Osculation
Spring – and a young man’s fancy turns to things of love. Or at least it might, had not kissing become the latest in a long line of hitherto unregulated pleasures which the do-gooding powers-that-be seek to surround with earnest warnings of dire calamity and, ultimately, to expunge wholesale from the face of the earth.
In February – and perfectly timed for the Feast of St Valentine – the Daily Telegraph reported the osculatory scare story, in the deathless prose (where do these people learn to use the English language?) of Dr Joanna Tully of the Academic Centre for Child Health. Peter Simple, thou shouldst be living at this hour. ‘Lingering teenage kisses,’ admonishes the good Dr Tully, ‘carry a significant risk that the entwining pair will contract meningitis.’
‘Adolescence is a period of psycho-social maturation,’ she continues, ‘during which the adoption of risky behaviours may produce a distinct risk profile.’ The only response to a ‘distinct risk profile’ must surely be the adoption of a policy of risk assessment, a humble phrase which will nevertheless strikes terror into the heart of anyone who has ever had to do with that modern-day Gorgon, Health and Safety. (Here is another subject close to the heart of your own dear Endpiece, and to which she will not doubt return one day soon).
Parents, never let those hormonally-challenged apples of your middle-aged eyes out of your sight, until they have completed – in triplicate – a series of forms asking them to state: a) the likely occurrence of a lingering kiss occurring at Michele’s party down the road; and b) the strategies adopted to minimize the risk. Do it, lest they kiss, contract and sue you, their negligent guardians, for failing to stopper-up their greedy mouths with sticky tape, before that fatal frenchie.
Of course, where the ludicrous is in the offing, the Welsh and, specifically, the Welsh Assembly can never be far away. Incredible to relate, the very same issue of the Torygraph carried not just one, but two, prohibitions against kissing. Under ‘guidelines’ drawn up by the egregious pseudo-parliament now part-ruling the Principality, love scenes in school plays should not be allowed to progress beyond a chaste peck on the cheek. No more will Romeo be allowed to seal his love for Juliet with the full lip-smacking Monty, presumably requiring a change to the heroine’s words to her dead lover: I will kiss thy lips; haply some poison yet doth hang on them? Hygiene and child protection win over artistic integrity and theatrical verisimilitude every time.
So many problems in the history of human relationships could have been solved – so many wars avoided – had the practice now increasingly commonplace in the universities of the United States of America been universally adopted sooner. There, the young men and women, giddy with love, must stop at each new moment – literally – of their nascent courtship, to ensure that the consent of the other to a fresh manoeuvre is plainly forthcoming.
A hand here, an arm there? A gentle touch, a soft caress? Not without signing on the dotted line first. What a humiliating ballet for both parties. What a travesty of intimacy. What an indictment of the infantilising of the notions of communication and responsibility which are, surely, the defining characteristics of what it means to be adult.
Judas Iscariot betrayed Our Lord with a kiss. Had the passion narratives been played out in our own age, one can only conclude that he would never have got that far.