Surprised by angels St Alban, Protomartyr, Romford
When you turn from Princes Road into Kings Road, Romford, you are confronted by a small undistinguished red-brick church with nothing much to tell you of the surprises in store. But look over the wall into the memorial garden and you may begin to suspect that there is something out of the ordinary about the parish church of St Alban, Protomartyr, Romford.
The part of the church grounds you see, where the ashes of the dead are buried, has a tall Column of Remembrance in Portland stone by Jamie Sargeant. It is set in cobbles, topped by a gilded stone globe. Nearby stands a sculpture bench, by John Pitt, also in Portland stone, representing the Trinity, with the words ‘Come ye apart and rest awhile’ [Mark 6.31] carved on three dramatic wedge-shaped vertical slabs. The seat, set with horizontal slabs of slate, bears the inscription ‘And our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee’ [St Augustine, Confessions]. Together these make a tranquil corner of the church grounds, enhanced by the surrounding planting of scented herbs.
Going up to the church, the first thing you see are a pair of magnificently engraved glass doors. These display the east end elevation of the shrine of St Alban, including the west front of St Alban’s Abbey on one door and St Alban on the other. His feet rest on a medieval stone, below which is his hill of martyrdom and miraculous spring surrounded by delicate poppies and daisies. The doors are engraved by Sally Scott and David Peace, and through them you can see into the church. Once inside, the light streams in, illuminating the interior and especially the newly-restored organ, with green pipes decorated with red and blue bands and gilded mouths.
As you enter the church porch there is a holy water stoup: you put your fingers in, and they touch the beautifully carved body of a fish curved just beneath the rim.
Inside the church is the magnificent Pilgrimage Window, with Our Lady of Walsingham in the centre, in a design of blues and whites offset by touches of golden yellow. At the top of the window is the scallop shell of the Pilgrim, from which the baptismal waters pour down. Scattered through the design are the places the people of St Albans have visited on pilgrimage. At the bottom of the window some of them are to be seen, including their parish priest in his biretta! The window was designed by Patrick Reyntiens, who worked with John Piper on the great Baptistry window in Coventry Cathedral. Above the Pilgrimage Window, Reyntiens also designed the circular stained-glass window representing the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Below these windows is the font, the cover of which is also connected with Walsingham. Siegfried Pietzsch, who has done much work there, carved the golden dove with outstretched wings alighting on the font cover.
Turning from the Pilgrimage Window and looking down the nave, high above the chancel arch, is Peter Eugene Ball’s Christus Rex: the Supreme and Eternal High Priest, slender and dramatic in red and gold, arms outstretched in welcome and blessing, with his robes falling in stylised folds and his golden feet springing from the chancel arch.
Behind him are legions of angels – on the ceiling and in the windows. Above the altar are three of the five Angel Windows, also designed by Patrick Reyntiens, which fill this end of the church with light and upward-rushing movement. In the central window the angel holds the crucifix; in the windows on each side they hold the Host, surrounded by rays of golden light, and the Chalice, filled with the red Blood of Christ. In the window on the north wall the angel holds a rose surrounded by fire with the words ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ [Julian of Norwich]. The angel in the window on the south wall holds the fire surrounded with rose petals and the inscription is ‘And the fire and the rose are one’ [T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets].
Angels continue on the mural which fills the barrel-vault of the sanctuary and chancel. The artist, Mark Cazalet, shows the angels of the four elements of Creation: air, fire, earth and water. Against a blue star-filled sky, they sweep through the firmament in power and glory – and down at the bottom of the mural are the very human depictions of scenery around the area: the historic market, the buses and trains, a white van carrying the logo of the Romford Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Essex girls enjoying Romford’s night-life, dancing round their handbags in their white stilettos, and in the distance, glimpses of London, with the Gherkin and the London Eye.
Around the church, set against the bricks and above the green, red and blue panelling are the Stations of the Cross carved in European oak by Charlie Gurrey in irregular shapes. Set a little forward of the brickwork they cast light shadows on it. The formalized and modern figures are incised in colour. The face of Christ is not revealed until the final station, placed in the sanctuary, where he is full-face. This station is hinged so that it can also face down the nave.
Siegfried Pietzsch also carved the statues of Our Lady and St Alban which stand on each side of the chancel. Their colours and design are complemented by the gilded and painted shrines in which they stand, and the handsome complementary candlestands.
One of the memorial floor plaques is particularly charming. Designed to commemorate the senior churchwarden’s mother who was a hairdresser, ‘Scissors and Combs’ has her name and dates and the beautifully carved tools of her trade. It was in the Exhibition ‘The Art of Remembering’ at Blickling Hall in 1998.
The nave credence table, the hymn and incumbent-boards (enhanced with nice little jokes if you look for them), the candlestands and other church furnishings have been beautifully and carefully designed to enhance the worship of this church.
The Church of St Alban, a Forward in Faith Church, has been awarded twelve DAC Design Awards, more than any other church in the diocese of Chelmsford, and has a well-deserved reputation for commissioning high-quality works of art. This has a positive effect on the place of the parish in the community and the work it does. Local schools regularly visit the church, and Father Hingley is the Link Governor for Art and Design at the local Girls Comprehensive School. This school has, for their centenary year, commissioned a stained-glass window by Patrick Reyntiens. The wealth of beautiful and innovative works of art in Saint Alban’s are an inspiration not only to their own worshippers but something they share with the wider parish and community – go to Romford, and you will see angels!
Father Hingley welcomes visitors and will undertake art tours. He can be contacted on 01708 473580 (catering is also available). Anne Gardom
RETHINKING AUGUSTINE’S EARLY THEOLOGY
An Argument for Continuity
OUP, 314pp, hbk 0 19 928166 1, £55
Carol Harrison, a practising Anglican, teaches Patristics in the Theology department at Durham University, specializing in the work of St Augustine of Hippo. Those looking for a (re-)introduction to the work of Augustine could hardly do better than her earlier book Augustine: Christian Truth and Fractured Humanity (OUP, 2000) in which she offers a survey of Augustine’s thought which not only describes its central features, but also helpfully places it in its social and cultural context. One of the features that Harrison’s writing shares with a number of other Augustine scholars, notably John Burnaby, Peter Brown, Robert Markus and John Rist, is her commitment to clear and attractive writing. This should commend her work to those leading busy lives, without the time for deciphering bits of theological obscurantism. More fundamentally, however, it goes with the grain of Augustine’s own thought that those who wish to commend something to others should write about it in words that are themselves attractive and capable of drawing people towards what is described: ‘my weight is my love, and by it I am carried wherever I go’ [Confessions 13.9.10].
Augustine was converted to Christianity in 386; ordained to the priesthood in 391 and to the episcopate in 395. Following Peter Brown’s biography, it has become accepted wisdom in recent Augustine scholarship that, in the aftermath of his conversion, Augustine was essentially a Platonist, with a fairly thin veneer of Christianity, optimistic and confident about human potential. It is only towards the end of the fourth century, it is argued (roughly the time at which he writes his Confessions), that Augustine’s reading of Paul impels him to take a far more sceptical look at his Platonist mentors, leading him to the themes that will be central to his later work: principally, the sinfulness of fallen human beings, and their utter dependence upon God.
The reasons for this idea of a sea-change in Augustine’s thought are complex. Partly, it can be attributed to the compelling but not always rigorous arguments of Peter Brown. Partly because it is clear that the Pelagian controversy, which came later in Augustine’s life, did undoubtedly sharpen his theology of sin and grace. Partly also perhaps because quite a number of scholars would just love to think that the Father of the Western Church changed his mind, with all that that might imply for later theology that derives from what he says.
Harrison’s thorough exploration of Augustine’s early works demonstrates the essential continuity in his thought, from the time of his conversion onwards. In his early years, he was indeed, as he continued to be, deeply influenced by Neoplatonic thought, but this is entirely re-framed and re-interpreted when he fully embraces Catholic Christianity. The essential melodies of Augustine’s thought on subjects such as original sin [ch.6], freedom of the will [ch.7] and the need for grace [ch.8] are all present in his early works.
Those with a specialist interest in Augustine will have to reckon with Harrison’s challenge to much of the received wisdom of the last forty years of Augustine scholarship. And, precisely because the book asserts the fundamental continuity of Augustine’s thought, general readers, especially those who have had slightly too much of the Confessions, should find that this exploration of the early works sheds a helpful light on the entirety of Augustine’s writing, giving it a beauty ‘ever ancient, ever new.’
Just two small quibbles. The first is the high price which will inevitably make many decide to wait until the paperback version appears (let us hope it does). And then there’s the somewhat unimaginative title, which is a disappointment from an author whose prose style is so elegant. You get what it says on the tin, but that’s about all that can be said for it. These should not, however, put people off this lucid and cogently argued study of some of Augustine’s least-known works.
Edward Dowler is Vice-Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford
ALFRED HOPE PATTEN AND THE SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM
Michael Yelton Canterbury, 288pp, pbk 1 85311 753 6, £20
Reviewing a new biography of Thomas Hardy, the critic Carole Angier described Hardy as ‘an almost comically neurotic man, from boyhood on: a solitary who could not bear to be alone; a successful self-made man who was nonetheless given to anxiety and black depression, and whose works increasingly expressed a radical pessimism, a conviction that some dark force controls us, making mockery of our wills. No one…could quite understand where his pessimism came from, since his childhood was secure, his adult life a series of triumphs, and his old age covered in glory’ [Literary Review, October 2006].
I was reading this biography of Alfred Hope Patten and was struck (admittedly at a superficial level) by the appropriateness of that description of Hardy to the Patten I was encountering in the book. The comparison is not exact but it is sufficiently congruent to be illuminating.
Highly-strung, neurotic, obsessive, prone to nervous breakdown, collapse and debility were characteristics throughout Hope Patten’s life from childhood to the grave. He was committed to the celibate life, felt the need for solitude, or at least the occasional escape from a corporate existence as when he moved out of the clergy house to accommodation of his own during one of his curacies. Yet he always had other, frequently younger, people living in the vicarage and he spent much of his time and energy trying to establish communal, collegiate or quasi-monastic societies. Strikingly lacking in formal education, marked by his aversion from Latin and erratic spelling, he was, nevertheless, extremely successful, resourceful and persuasive in the main work of his life.
He may not have been prone to the kind of depression suffered by Hardy but his frequent absences from overwork and nervous exhaustion indicate a depressive streak. He may not have been a radical pessimist but he does not emerge here as of a sunny disposition and the suggestion that on the eve of his death he confided that it may be soon the time to convert to Rome may have indicated a disillusion with the Church of England and the place of Catholics within it. His interest in the occult and his willingness and facility to attribute ghostly activity to mundane events may suggest something of the fear of dark forces.
These are not insights which emerge in any detail or with any analytical authority from Mr Yelton’s biography. It is solid. It uses archive sources available well enough. It corrects some misconceptions and errors in previous publications. It speculates intelligently where there is a lack of information: although the trawl through the family background in the first chapter is tedious. It finesses some angularities and ties up a few loose ends. But it lacks the psychological insight and psycho-pathological depth of an experienced biographer and of the best kind of biography. Without wishing to imply anything improper in the relationship between Fr Patten and Fr Lingwood, you never feel that Mr Yelton has the experienced biographer’s confidence or the appropriate forensic tools to explore and unravel it: a sense of tiptoeing through egg shells pervades the text.
Fr Lingwood proved an essential element in the success of the Shrine. From the humblest beginnings, as the son of the baker in Walsingham, he was taken under Hope Patten’s wing and became the financial rock on which the Shrine was built and prospered. His route to ordination was convoluted but it was eventually secured. The break in his relationship with Hope Patten is chronicled but insufficiently detailed or explored, nor is the evident reconciliation that saw Lingwood as the celebrant at Hope Patten’s Requiem Mass. Perhaps the evidence does not exist to be more detailed but there remains the uneasy feeling that a more perceptive biographer might have made more of this important period in Hope Patten’s life. It would also have been good to have rather more of the exchanges between Hope Patten and Bishop Pollock.
If Hope Patten remains something of an enigma, his creation, or imaginative re-creation remains and is central to a Catholic expression in the Church of England and evokes both devotion and loyalty. Walsingham is one of the success stories of the Anglo-Catholic Movement. Hope Patten will remain as one of the great men of the Movement for his vision and his single-minded pursuit of his aim. He had the ability to attract able, and often wealthy, supporters and if he went up a few blind alleys, or followed a few paths which petered out and came to nothing, the central vision remained and triumphed.
He may not have lived to see two Archbishops of Canterbury attend the National Pilgrimage (one of whom sang the Angelus) but during his life he saw the Shrine grow from the smallest beginnings to enjoy a national and international reputation. This has grown through the years after his death.
Many pilgrims will enjoy this book but it is marred, for me, by some deeply irritating linguistic tics. Phrases such as ‘as already mentioned,’ ‘as we have seen,’ ‘as previously said,’ and the like are spattered through the text. Why bother saying such things? We have read it. A stronger editorial hand would have avoided these lapses and would have dealt with other syntactical and verbal redundancies. There is a good selection of photographs and a few drawings, but it is pushing it a bit to describe the book as an illustrated biography which implies something more lavish than is offered here.
Can it really be true, as Mr Yelton avers on p.108, that ‘Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is now almost unknown as a popular service’?
PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS
Compiled by Fr Alan Parkinson and Richard McEwan
Published by Society of Mary, St Silas Presbytery, 11 St Silas Pl, London NW5 124pp, pbk, £9·50
This small book has been brought out to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Society of Mary. Its written content is fairly slight and consists of short commentaries on various events in the Society’s recent past as well on some of the earlier personalities, like Sir William Milner and Fr A.H. Baverstock and going back to the great Lord Halifax, who founded the original League of Our Lady in 1904 with a meeting at St Barnabas, Pimlico. This organization merged with the older but smaller Confraternity of Our Lady, which had been founded in 1880 among Anglicans in India and became the Society of Mary in 1931.
The book does not really set out to be a full history of the Society but consists largely of an admirable collection of photographs of more recent functions of the Society where all the glories of traditional Anglo-Catholic worship can be seen, often in full colour, with magnificent vestments, birettas, yards of lace, mitred bishops and fully decked altars with multitudes of candles where High Mass is being sung or Solemn Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament performed.
This is also an opportunity to see photographs of some of those great Shrines of the north of England which we in the south only hear of without having visited, like St Stephen’s, Liverpool, St Agnes, Toxteth Park and the church at Goldthorpe built by Lord Halifax. The famous London shrines are represented as well, including St Silas, Kentish Town, St Alban’s, Holborn and others.
This is a worthwhile keepsake to remind one of how the worship of God and devotion to Mary can be carried on, even in this modern reductionist age. It is heartening to see a fair sprinkling of young priests and people in these photographs, showing that the ‘Old Religion’ is not just being promulgated by we who are old and grey but is upheld by a new generation who will find the going far more tough than even the Tractarians found it.
It is sad to realize that a number of those priests in the photographs of the last ten years or so have subsequently gone to Rome, but the young Anglicans are still coming forward. The full Catholic Faith still has its power and all the gorgeous vestments, multitudes of candles and statues of the Virgin carried in procession are not there just for fun, they are there because we believe in the Incarnation and Christ’s Real Presence in the Sacrament.
Hutchinson, 375pp, hbk 0 0917 9702 0, £20
It would be a pity if this book were to be chiefly remembered for the joke on its own author – the fruit of one of the most splendid literary spats of modern times – which appears on pp.154–5 of the first edition. (Spell out the initial letters of each sentence in the letter from ‘Honor Tracy’ if you have somehow missed the plot and its denouement.) Your reviewer can only hope that this original text, now pulled, and a re-print issued with the fraudulent paragraphs removed, will become a collector’s item, and an asset ready to be realized should the Pensions Board finally collapse. Betjeman and, even more so, Lady Betjeman, who never escaped worrying about cash, would have enjoyed the irony.
A.N. Wilson has got away with a piece of pretty brazen literary smuggling with this swiftly-produced, compact biography. It draws substantially on the three-volume, sprawling and often prolix work of Bevis Hillier, whom he only acknowledges once. Correspondence is quoted which is kept in a restricted archive, and was released once – and only once – for Hillier to consult and to quote with proper acknowledgement. Here, the same letter appears, with footnote reference to Pusey House and, uniquely, to Hillier himself.
Yet it is Wilson’s which is the more successful work. He writes well: engagingly, fluently, a natural story-teller. He understands, instinctively and acutely, the forces which shaped Betjeman, the combination of personalities and sensibilities which made him who he was. His father; the Almighty; women: it is Betjeman’s relationships with these which Wilson rightly identifies as fundamental, and he stays with them, more or less, throughout the book. This is not the place to look for a sustained treatment of Betjeman the architectural critic and preservationist. Nor does Wilson attempt sustained passages of textual analysis of the poems, with one or two exceptions: there is a very good exposition of A Subaltern’s Love Song (Miss J. Hunter Dunn) which asserts confidently and correctly, ‘Every word is right.’ No, this is a book which seeks to capture the elusive heart of its subject, the ‘nation’s favourite teddy bear,’ and realizes that endeavour remarkably well, even if – as others have noted – the last quarter feels rushed.
As one of English letters’ most notable agnostics himself, it is unsurprising that Wilson should write so well about Betjeman’s religion. (There are one or two lapses, suggestive of Wilson’s own troubled history of faith: to describe Darwell Stone, Pusey House’s most scholarly Principal, as a ‘Victorian bigot’ is absurd.) For Betjeman, moments of darkness and disbelief sit alongside a fierce loyalty to the Church of England which is both spiritual and cultural. Penelope’s conversion to Rome is a real cause of grief, and the lifelong companionship (Wilson hints at, but never directly alleges, a physical consummation) with Elizabeth Cavendish as much to do with ecclesiastical as any other kind of compatibility.
Evelyn Waugh’s splenetic attacks on Betjeman’s allegiance to the Established Church hurt. ‘If you accept an absurdity, as you do in pretending the Church of Wantage is the Catholic Church, and luxuriate in sentimental raptures,’ Waugh wrote, ‘you will naturally break out in boils & carbuncles and question the authenticity of the Incarnation.’ For Betjeman, as Wilson notes, the catholicity of the Church of England, the assurance of her sacraments, is the serious matter: far more serious than the occasional doubt about the resurrection or the virgin birth. ‘Betjeman understood,’ writes Wilson towards the end of the book, ‘far more deeply than most of the bishops and synods and focus groups of the modern Church, what the CofE was, and why it was still central to the people of England.’
Betjeman himself, in his commentary to the film A Passion for Churches, transmitted in December 1974, had observed, against the background of a vicar reading the Office to an empty church, ‘It doesn’t matter that there’s no one here. It doesn’t matter that they do not come. The villagers know the parson is praying for them in their church.’
That was just thirty years ago, and few villages now have a parson to pray for them. It has become unthinkable to suggest that ‘it doesn’t matter that they do not come.’ Yet – Betjeman or the Synods: who would take their side against him?
What prevents Betjeman being taken seriously as a man of faith by some is, of course, the complexity – the irregularity – of his private life. Wilson helps us to see that, for Betjeman, the erotic and the sacred were never going to be kept apart. The willowy figure of Myfanwy Evans blends with the incense at St Barnabas’, Jericho, so that ‘There in the nimbus and Comper tracery / Gold Myfanwy blesses us all.’
It is this mingling of sensibilities which makes Betjeman so humane, and hence so endearing, a figure: not our greatest poet, by any means, but one who gave voice to the anxieties, and the fantasies, of the common man – and in whose mixed motives and weak will, but also in whose aspirations to truth and beauty, we see ourselves. Wilson serves him well.
One rebuke to the author’s literary judgement. Wilson suggests that, like Betjeman, few poets have written much of worth over the age of forty. Once I’d thought of Yeats, Eliot and Auden, in the twentieth century alone, I gave up. Shome mishtake, shurely?
Jonathan Baker is the Principal of Pusey House
WHO IS THIS MAN?
Christ in the Renewal of the Church
Edited by Jonathan Baker and William Davage
Continuum, 130pp, pbk 0 8264 8157 4, £16.99
It is perhaps one of the challenges of life in a church that seems to be continually changing its mind, that as Anglo-Catholics we have no sooner decided on one course of events than General Synod does exactly the opposite of what it said it would do. Can we claim, as Fr Houlding does in his piece in this book, that the Church of England is ‘part of the one holy, Catholic and apostolic Church’? General Synod clearly does not think so, as on 7 July this year it affirmed that the Church of England had received a form of the ‘Christian faith;’ thus changing the historic claim of the Church of England to have received that Catholic faith once delivered to the apostles. All is not, however, doom and gloom.
This collection of essays and devotional material prepared for the Stand Up for Jesus conference, called to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Foundation of the SSC, the Society of the Holy Cross, does give us all some hope. What is clear is that in the tradition of the Oxford Movement, Anglo- Catholics are capable of calling together theological minds from within and outside our constituency to discuss those theological questions troubling the modern Church. On reflection it is interesting to note that the Fathers of the Oxford Movement were concerned with priesthood and order just as much as we are today, and thus this collection might be seen as continuing their work. This collection, edited to a standard rarely seen in books today (indeed the editors have even ensured that the Greek is printed correctly, a rare thing these days!) goes some way to proving that this is indeed the case.
Whilst it is fair to say that in general big names sell more seats, or in this case more copies, I am always concerned that in writing so many prefaces or articles the standard of those by the Archbishop of Canterbury is rather hit and miss. In his lecture ‘To what end are we made?’ Rowan Williams does not disappoint. Whilst he no doubt had other things on his mind, as he prepared to fly to Rome for Pope John Paul’s funeral, he gives a serious scriptural reflection, drawing on his understanding of the works of Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. His assertion that ‘Orthodoxy is the truth that makes us happy’ is one that we could learn from.
The sermons delivered by the Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough are both worthy of reading and it is good to know that we have bishops who are thoughtful about their faith and have a desire to see that faith spread throughout England. Of the bishops of our constituency, I was most impressed by the lecture by Bishop Paul Richardson who spoke on the topic of ‘Evangelization and Mission.’ Although not himself a member of the SSC, Bishop Paul spoke to the heart of the vocation of all SSC members, that is to spread the Gospel to those who have never heard it. Bishop Paul’s ministry in South-East Asia has given him a unique perspective on mission and it is to be hoped that he will be one of the voices guiding the Church in the twenty-first century as it carries on the mission of the conversion of England, especially in our poorest cities, started by the founders of the SSC.
Of all the lectures I found those by the Bishop of Guildford and Mary Tanner perhaps the most frustrating. Whilst painting an optimistic picture of the ecumenical movement and ARCIC in particular, it is difficult to see how those who support the ordination of women to the episcopate can ever hope to see re-union with the Holy See. Rome is not as they imply desperate to seek re-union with us, and it is clear that many Anglicans, indeed many Anglican bishops, are happy to ignore the advice given by the Roman Catholic Church. We have only to consider the way in which Cardinal Kasper’s lecture to the House of Bishops was received to see that many bishops are not concerned with ecumenism.
Four of the talks impressed me greatly and I have returned to them for a second reading; indeed at least three of them could, I think, be used as short reflections before during a time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Fr Philip North’s two short reflections, given at the time without notes I understand, are worthy of much praise. His weaving together of Our Lord, Our Lady, St Peter, the priesthood and the varying concepts of Love in a seamless garment reveal a pastoral understanding of theology that is rarely seen in clergy today. His talk given in the Albert Hall entitled ‘Bluh, Bluh! Hail, Rejoice!’ connects the ‘Hail’ of the Archangel Gabriel to Our Lady, to that of the soldiers to Our Lord. It is a memorable reflection, one that should certainly be given wider circulation. Both Fr Swain and Fr Sloane are from the Episcopal Church in America. I am sure that both them have been, as Fr Swain puts it in his lecture ‘The Architecture of Priesthood,’ stretched ‘physically, mentally and spiritually’ in the care of their people during these difficult times. They are models for us all as we face an uncertain future.
Whilst this book may seem costly at £16·99 for only 130 pages, it is a valuable record of the events of the Stand Up for Jesus conference, and it reminds us that in all our work and in all our struggles as a constituency (and in all the work of the SSC), we have but one goal: to acknowledge God and to heed his call to ‘be still and know that I am God.’
Philip Corbett is an ordinand at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield
ANGLICANISM: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION Mark Chapman
OUP, 158pp, pbk 0 19 280693 9, £6·99
Written by ‘experts’ with the aim of being both ‘stimulating’ and ‘accessible,’ Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introductions series are read by many as an inroad into a new subject. As an undergraduate I was advised to read some of them by way of a brief and easy to understand introduction to courses before I sat down and read the set texts. They are in general written by academics who are leaders in their chosen field (E.P. Sanders on Paul and Roger Scruton on Kant are but two examples).
Certainly Mark Chapman could be called an ‘expert’ on Anglicanism. One would however expect the Vice-Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon and a church historian of some repute to be able to avoid taking a partisan stance when writing a simple guide to Anglicanism. Whilst there is much to commend this book to the reader, especially Chapman’s account of the Reformation and the Church of England in the eighteenth century, it is his account of the constituency this magazine serves that in my opinion calls into question the reliability of his account of Anglicanism as a whole. In his section on ‘Women and Ministry,’
Chapman claims that a ‘few hundred clergy’ resigned after the decision to ordain women to the priesthood in the Church of England. This vague figure implies that the number was small and insignificant. In fact 422 clergy resigned under the Financial Provisions Measure. This however does not include those who did not qualify under the measure, those who were working in sector ministries, those who had retired or those who left before the measure came into effect. In total then the total number of clergy who left was at least 729. Chapman fails to mention the number of laity who left the Church, a figure which if known would be much higher. Chapman also claims that ‘no more than a couple of hundred parishes’ have opted for alternative episcopal oversight. Once again he needs to check his facts. In total by 2006, when this book was published, nearly 350 parishes had petitioned. Having recently penned Affirming Catholicism’s response to the Guildford Report, I hope that if this book goes into a second edition, Dr Chapman will at least take Guildford’s slightly lower and inaccurate figure of 315 parishes who have petitioned for alternative oversight.
Lest it seem that this reviewer wishes to play into Dr Chapman’s hands when he calls this magazine ‘sad, bitter and defensive,’ I should say that I found the sections of his book dealing with liturgical revision and global Anglicanism interesting and informative. They would on their own provide a useful introduction for someone trying to understand how the Anglican Communion operates. That being said, it is sad when a book is marred with factual inaccuracies; even more so when they seem intended to form a negative view of a minority opinion that the Church of England, at least, claims to value. Clearly this not the case for some members of Affirming Catholicism.
If I have learned anything from reading this book, it is that we as Anglo-Catholics must continue to speak the truth and reveal the true facts of what is occurring in the church today. We are confident in our faith, the faith of our fathers, and will continue to proclaim it with integrity. Sadly it seems that this book which claims to be a factual ‘very short introduction’ to Anglicanism is ‘very short’ in accurate facts about our constituency.
THE HAUNTED RECTORY
Image Books, 278pp, pbk 0 385 51202 3, $13·95
A light-hearted novel from America released for publication this month, which reinforces the Bishop of Bolton’s claim that Halloween should not be flippantly celebrated nor introduced to young children.
The novel centres around a ‘group of hookers’ (not what you immediately thought) at the Roman Catholic Church of St Francis Xavier. There is an interregnum in the parish and every priest whom the bishop sends is scared away by the goings on in the Rectory (they are all rectories in America, no presbyteries) following the death of the previous incumbent and his young curate, in the dead of one night. Just what is going on and what will it take to right the wrong?
The Vatican (who are always involved in everything Roman Catholic) very wisely, will only give the job of exorcist to an academic (young, handsome, pastoral – aren’t they all) who does not really want to know. But as to why the Vatican is right, and where the Magi fit in, together with the hookers, and the crescent-shaped birthmark, not forgetting the crown of thorns – it is worth reading to find out.
Part Aga saga, part mystery and part thriller, light enough to read on a plane or train, yet compelling and tantalizing reading, and over-riding all is a deeply moving story of faith. Lighter than Susan Howatch, but with convincing lay theology.
THE TRUTH SEEKING HEART
Edited by Ann Loades and Robert MacSwain
Canterbury, 250pp, pbk 1 85311 712 9, £16·99
In 2004 I attended an Austin Farrer Conference at Oriel, Oxford for the centenary of his birth. It was a revelation to discover the breadth of interest in his philosophy, in particular his thinking on double causation. To my generation he was the classical Anglican theologian and preacher, the doyen of a vanishing age of confident orthodoxy, and the proof that intelligent men could be Catholic Christians.
The third facet of his genius, the biblical scholarship, has like the disciplines he criticized dated most thoroughly, but he is still the guarantor of the individual believer’s capacity to read the Scriptures for himself, the independence of his conclusions the assurance that even the strongest prevailing opinion need not prevail.
Why the need for another edited selection of his writings? To present him afresh to a new generation. Rowan Williams’ judgement, ‘Possibly the greatest Anglican mind of the twentieth century,’ is not mere hyperbole. Farrer embodied that subtle grasp of Scripture, tradition and reason that is the Anglican ideal, to which we no longer wish or are no longer able to aspire. He is one of the few theologians of whom we may be justly proud – it is good that new students should encounter him. An odd man, with his funny, thin voice, but an inspiration.