EARTHLY POWERS: RELIGION AND POLITICS IN EUROPE FROM THE FRENCH REVOLUT-ION TO THE GREAT WAR
Harper Collins, 576pp, hbk
0 00 719572 9, £25
It is a rare privilege and an unalloyed pleasure to finish reading a book with the clear apprehension that it is a classic. Michael Burleigh (who holds a Chair in History at the University of Wales, Cardiff), in Earthly Powers, the first of a projected two volumes, has written such a book. It is a powerful piece of work. His area of academic expertise has previously been seen in a series of books on German history, particularly dealing with the Third Reich. He now writes here with immense authority, wit and insight, on a broader canvas.
His survey of religion and politics over the past two hundred years, of which this is the first instalment, is more than a tour d’horizon, rather, a detailed and evocative consideration of the rise and fall of the religious state and its replacement with a series of ideologies, all of which, whether dictatorial, authoritarian, communistic or liberal democratic fail, and continue to fail man’s nature and aspirations. Man’s pursuit of false gods has found its finest contemporary historical voice.
We are familiar enough with the crass simplification presented by sociologists of religion, who see religion substituted by football or the cult of celebrity, with its own debased tabloid hagiography. But a progressively aggressive secularization has resulted in something of much greater moment: the dehumanization of humanity.
Among the many felicities of the book is the uncompromising way in which Burleigh redresses the historical balance, recaptures the past from the historians of the liberal left who, as he perceptively writes, ‘feel that their own subscription to progressive ideas is sullied whenever Communism, as an off-shoot of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, is associated with the predatory nihilism of National Socialism.’ You simply have to watch the BBC or, heaven help us, read The Guardian to see the debilitating liberal consensus in full and unlovely cry. For more proof, look at the negotiations leading up to the formulation of the European Union constitution and the successful campaign to extirpate any reference to Europe’s Christian history: a shameful episode in which our catholic-minded Prime Minister was unduly complicit. But history does not seem to be his strong suit. Look at the new citizenship ceremonies. Ignore for the moment that we are not citizens of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, but subjects of HM The Queen, yet marvel that the Queen’s constitutional position is un-remarked and her position vis à vis the Church of England unacknowledged. All of this means that ignorance of the nation’s Christian heritage permeates cultural norms and moulds future generations. No doubt the CofE has contributed to its enfeebled state, and the disregard in which it is held, but that should be the subject of another and different book.
The book begins with the Enlightenment and its spawn, the French Revolution, considered with admirable clarity. Without subscribing in any way to the simplicities of American neo-conservatism and its denigration of Enlightenment thought, Burleigh is spot on when he says that the philosophes were interested in much, ‘regarding nothing as being beyond rational scrutiny, except their own deepest prejudices.’ Nor, indeed, how much they relied on revealed religion: how interesting to learn that Rousseau lifted wholesale from a Jesuit encyclopedia much of his acclaimed dictionary. Burleigh’s analysis and comments are similarly pithy throughout the book.
From the Terror of the French Revolution to modern expressions of totalitarianism, Burleigh delineates the ‘fitful, rather than the inexorable, history of European secularisation.’ He takes his story to the trenches of Flanders and northern France in the First World War, leaving us eagerly awaiting the second volume. Along the way are deft portraits of politicians, religious and cultural icons; potent and suggestive summaries of movements, philosophies, political discourse and changes.
It is tempting simply to quote extensively from the book: ‘fame, the opinion of posterity displaced the judgement of God,’ is one among countless epigrammatic insights, but it would be wrong to spoil your pleasure, if you buy and read this book as you should. Judicious quotation from other historians, as well as from original sources, is one of the strengths of the book. He quotes tellingly from that brave and great Roman Catholic historian, who is now happily re-emerging from an unjustified eclipse, Christopher Dawson. As well as denouncing ‘pan-racial theorists who subordinate civilization to skull-measurements’ in front of an audience that included Mussolini and Göring, Dawson wrote that the ‘determination to build Jerusalem, at once and on the spot, is the very force which is responsible for the intolerance and violence of the new spiritual order…if we believe that the Kingdom of Heaven can be established by political or economic measures – that it can be an earthly state – then we can hardly object to the claims of such a state to embrace the whole of life and to demand the total submission of the individual…there is a fundamental error in all this. That error is the ignoring of Original Sin and its consequences or rather the identification of the Fall with some defective political or economic arrangement.’
It is the unfolding and expansion of this penetrating comment that Michael Burleigh achieves so well. Written with piercing clarity and convincing by its intellectual probity and unerring command of a dizzying array of material, this is a magnificent accomplishment: one of the best and most significant works I have read in a decade or more: a triumph.
What is the point of being a Christian?
Timothy Radcliffe op
Burns & Oates, 218pp, pbk
0 86012 369 3, £10·99
In a church culture keen to engage with spiritual seekers and draw in new adherents, the former Master of the Dominican Order, Timothy Radcliffe, issues a timely challenge. Is the point of Christianity its worldly benefits like overcoming stress, gaining stability or even prosperity? If it were so and the Church took to marketing, Timothy argues, Christianity would sell itself short. The point of Christianity is to point to God who is the point of everything. Why defend our faith as relevant when God is himself the measure of all relevance? Either Christianity is true and God is our ultimate joy and destiny, or it is not true. The task of evangelization is to own and commend that truth, live it and share it.
Philosophers bring us back to first principles, and as they do so they can bring us to common ground with our fellow human beings. By its belief in reason Christianity is one with all who keep faith in homo sapiens though the Christian vision counters destructive self-centredness. Fr Radcliffe’s philosophy is laced with humour, humanity and an appealing engagement with the social ills of our day, which make this book the encouraging read it is. In Christian faith there is no escaping reality. Timothy’s stories from a world-wide itinerant ministry provide rich, colourful witness to the vital involvement of Christians in changing the world.
How about change in the Church and how do Christians explain all the infighting? If God is our ultimate security how can we fail to be people who are open and at ease? ‘Let us not fear that truth can endanger truth’ is a repeated quotation which rebukes the fearfulness around in Christian circles. It is hard to be a witness to a liberating Gospel if you are not yourself living in evident liberty. Though Christianity has a narrow door, this door of baptism – death and resurrection with Christ – is an entry into spacious mercy, delight, joy and freedom.
At the centre of Christianity is an orientation towards God which captures the gift of Jesus given to the Church and potentially to all. The key division in Christianity today is explained as one between those who see Christ as primarily the source of unity in the Church and those who see him as primarily the unifier of humanity. The author reflects on the necessary tension between both views and captures their unity in Christ’s words at the heart of every Eucharist: This is my body…given for you… This is my blood…shed for all. It is the Sunday Eucharist that is reminder par excellence of the need to live in such creative tension with a life oriented to God.
Timothy Radcliffe’s book is an affirmation of Christian basics made all the more powerful by its allied call for humility as a virtue necessarily allied to a concern for truth. Just as the English language has been purified over the years from racist, sexist and generally contemptible idioms so the Church is open to ongoing purification, as in interfaith dialogue where Christianity is learning to stretch its vocabulary in the name of Christ ‘the word of friendship in which humanity is reconciled.’
This is a book that itself stretches the mind, besides warming the heart and affirming the ongoing point of Christianity as a place where people enter new spaciousness in anticipation of the eternal vision of God promised to his children through Jesus Christ.
THE TERROR: CIVIL WAR IN THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Little Brown, 448pp, hbk
Apart from Land of My Fathers, the Welsh National Anthem, sung with gusto in the old Cardiff Arms Park (not quite the same focused tribalism in the National Stadium), there is no more thrilling national song than La Marseillaise. Yet, rarely, if at all, do we pay any attention to the words sung with such martial swagger. They are a bloodthirsty and chilling reminder of the horrors and carnage unleashed by the French Revolution: ‘Come, children of the fatherland, the day of glory has arrived! The bloody standard is raised against us! Do you hear the fields of the howling of their ferocious soldiers? They are coming among us, to butcher your sons and your wives! To arms…’
Butchery and the howling of inchoate masses sum up the visceral paranoia of the Terror and the descent into merciless inhumanity which it signified. David Andress, in this substantial and detailed reconsideration of the Terror in the Revolution, argues that it was an aspect of the civil war into which France was plunged, as the Revolution unfolded and was a comprehensible political response to the counter-revolutionary forces that threatened, or were perceived to threaten, and to subvert and to reverse the course of the Revolution. He says that the hysterical hyperbolic iconoclasm highlighted in La Marseillaise was ‘an uncompromising message both of the threat posed to the Revolution and of the resolve of the citizenry to extinguish that threat by force of arms.’
By locating the Terror within the context of a civil war in France and by adducing a wealth of evidence of perceived, and some actual, counter-revolutionary insurgency, he takes issue with the characterization of the welter of carnage and mob violence essayed from Edmund Burke to Simon Schama, who maintained that ‘violence was the Revolution itself.’ It is going too far to say that David Andress has written what amounts to an apology for the Terror, but his revisionist rehabilitation comes very near to it at times. ‘The Terror,’ he writes, ‘was not some mysterious substance immanent in social upheaval, breaking to the surface unbidden to wreak havoc…[it was a] consequence in real civil war of a failure of consensus that edged steadily closer to complete collapse for over three years.’
Sometimes he pushes his evidence too hard in attempting to redress the imbalance he perceives in other accounts. The murder of the Princesse Lamballe was, according to accounts, prolonged and horrific, humiliating, sadistic and sordid. However, because the clerk who recorded her death did not detail her several injuries and mutilations, only her decapitation, Dr Andress concludes that her body was buried ‘decapitated but otherwise unmutilated, challenging in its cold physicality, recorded dispassionately…all the quasi-pornographic specifics of her legendary demise.’ But why should the lowly official record all the details of, what may have been to him, just another aristocratic death? This was a record of a death, not an autopsy. Might not the absence of detail be attributed to a coldly cynical disdain or callous indifference to an individual suffering, and be a terrifying commentary on the bureaucratic acceptance of brutality engendered by the ferment? Here, at least, he forces the historical record harder than it can reasonably bear.
The paradox of the French Revolution, and of all revolutions, is that the slogans under which they are fought are cruelly belied by the actions of the revolutionaries once they have acquired power. None could object to liberty, equality and fraternity: but it was not liberty for all (the prisons were full enough; Madame Guillotine was busy enough); there was precious little fraternity between the Girondins, the Jacobins and the rest of the revolutionary factions; and equality proves to be nothing other than the bogus heresy it always has been. Fraternal solidarity gives way to self-interest and rubs up against the tyranny of collective homogeneity. Like most revolutionaries, those who wore the cap of liberty pursued false gods, seduced by Enlightenment thought; they were held in its thrall.
Too often a distinction is drawn between the oppression of a tyrant, dictator or monarch (bad) and the dictatorship of the proletariat or the mob (good) but it is a false dichotomy: both are a perversion of humane values and the better nature and impulses of humanity: both are not merely unacceptable but wicked.
This valuable study, despite these over-arching reservations, is packed with incident, mostly violent, often moving. In the mounting chaos and multi-layered events that characterized the Terror, Dr Andress maintains a clear narrative and guides us through the maelstrom by means of lucid prose and descriptive precision. There is a vast array of characters and they are fleshed out in sharply observant pen-portraits which pepper the pages. Major participants, such as Danton and the ‘incorruptible’ unnerving Robespierre receive their due prominence, but many minor players have their day in the sun. This rich and vivid book starts with the flight of the King to Varennes and moves through the pathetic patience of Louis, the inept scheming of the Queen (and her execution which is suffused with much pathos), the spiralling political crisis, the breakdown of the ancien régime and the resulting chaos, the hysterical extremism and depraved, heartless cruelty and internecine bloodshed, to the rise of Napoleon, all accompanied by the thud of the guillotine and the clashing of the needles of the foul tricoteuses.
The Republican general victorious against the Royal and Catholic Army in the Vendée in his chilling report to the Committee of Public Safety wrote, ‘We take no prisoners, they would need to be given the bread of liberty, and pity is not revolutionary.’ This ‘brutal triumphalism’ may, as Dr Andress comments, be ‘the logical outcome’ of the Vendée rebellion, but it illustrates the moral nihilism at the heart of the Revolution. The Terror was a world turned upside down: a vision of hell and pitiless inhumanity.
OUP, 148pp, pbk
0 19 928717 1, £12·99
This is a dazzling, clever, breathless and infuriating book. The Financial Times rated it one of the top five political titles of 2005, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has called it a ‘little gem’ which said the most important things there are to say about Christianity. Meanwhile, Professor David Womersley of Oxford University wrote a coruscating attack for the Social Affairs Unit on this ‘dangerous, mischievous book.’ For Noel Malcolm, it was just ‘silly.’ Reviewers by nature disagree; but for what is, after all, a slim (if dense) volume to attract quite such a variety of bouquets and brickbats is unusual. Part of the reason for the sheer intensity of reaction, for and against, must be to do with the iconic nature of the author, who is loved and loathed among academics in equal measure.
Terry Eagleton is now Professor of Cultural Theory at Manchester University; a Marxist and a lapsed (and possibly now practising once again) Roman Catholic, he formerly taught in Oxford, where generations of undergraduates in the faculty of English Literature reached for his Literary Theory: An Introduction as a reasonably accessible pathfinder through the jungles of deconstructionism, post-structuralism, reader response theory, and so on. Its effect on many, who had naively imagined that they enjoyed reading books, was to leave them believing uncomfortably that they did not know how to read at all.
Eagleton’s theme is terrorism; or rather it is the whole cultural, anthropological and literary phenomenon of terror. He begins bluntly: to be a terrorist is to give a philosophical spin on the bloody business of spilling guts and hacking off heads, as if one were to call a fornicator a ‘copulationist.’ From there we meet Dionysus, god of ‘wine, song, ecstasy, theatre, fertility, excess and inspiration.’ Most of us, writes Eagleton, would prefer a spree with Dionysus to a seminar with Apollo. But Dionysus is also the god of blood: ‘what makes for bliss also makes for butchery.’ And so Eagleton leads us into a whirlwind discussion of the relationship between the terrible and the sacred, order and anarchy, civilization and barbarism, eros and thanatos. In the first chapter alone, Eagleton will introduce us to (and expect us to be familiar with) Euripides and Freud, Shakespeare and D.H. Lawrence, Nietzsche and Thomas Mann, and to understand just what is conveyed by that untranslatable word for (erotic) ecstasy beloved of feminist theorists in particular, jouissance.
What is most remarkable about the book is that it contains some passages of outstandingly good, incisive theology, set firmly within the Tradition (one sees why the Archbishop approved). Eagleton has a solid and sympathetic grasp of Augustine and Aquinas, and writes with clarity about the gratuitousness of God (that God is not and cannot be simply the biggest item in the Universe), the unconditional mercy of God, and the Cross as the point of revelation of infinite love as the meaning of the Law. Central to his thesis is Aquinas’ insistence that ‘God is a kind of nothingness about whom nothing really intelligible can be said.’ God is (or was, in an age of faith) that ‘otherness’ in which the human subject found fulfilment, resolution, justification: now it is psychoanalysis, or, possibly, art, which must undertake this function. Only Jesus, the Son, truly trusts that the reality of his existence derives from the ‘Other,’ who is none less than the Father.
Eagleton is excellent, too, on grace and virtue; on the disposition, or habit, of goodness; on God as the ground of human freedom rather than an obstacle to it. He captures well the human predicament in an age of unbelief: ‘For the modern epoch, it is now not God but humanity which is the eternal author of itself, conjuring itself up out of its own unsearchable depths without visible means of support… Far from having disappeared from history, God has simply been replaced by an alternative supreme entity known as Man.’
Sadly, alongside these and many other insightful and engaging passages of well-turned prose, one must note the book’s negatives. The kaleidoscope of works and authors cited is simply too vast, too disparate. The effect by the end is of a clever schoolboy (or don) showing off, and the thread of the argument suffers. Indeed, instead of an argument at all, one senses that it is more important for Eagleton to find an excuse to discuss a particular work, than for that work decisively or helpfully to illustrate or amplify a particular point which he wishes to make. Secondly, there is a descent to the trite – the unthinking – which is disappointing. The attacks on the Unites States of America are routine and ill-considered, the suggestions that Moslems are now the West’s ‘necessary antagonists’ far too simplistic. And to describe suicide bombing as ‘the last word in passive aggression’ will not do at all, and is a grossly cavalier approach to take to this cruel technique and instrument of murder.
So read this book as with a sieve, panning for nuggets of gold amid quite a lot of base metal. The search is well worth the effort – and there is a kind of stimulation, too, in being provoked by that with which one profoundly disagrees.
A final note – the Oxford University Press is to be congratulated on a pleasingly produced volume, which sits well in the hand and reads easily. The cover picture (a second century image of Dionysus riding a leopard) is eye-catching and neat – well done to whoever found it!
WISDOM FROM ABOVE
A Primer in the Theo1ogy of Father Sergei Bulgakov
Edited by Aidan Nichols op
Gracewing, 310pp, pbk
0 85244 642 X, [£17·99]
In a lecture, delivered in Oxford, Archbishop Rowan Williams, speaking of Father Bulgakov, said, ‘But Fr Bulgakov’s thought has often seemed impenetrable to the casual Western reader, or even the not so casual Western reader, and the not so casual Eastern reader as well. It has seemed to be a piece of metaphysical elaboration without immediate relation to the heart of the Gospel. It was a very distinguished and saintly Russian cleric who said that his first reaction on reading Fr Bulgakov was, ‘They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Not a very promising start for a casual Western reader.
On the basis of this assessment three questions (at least) occur immediately. Does Fr Nichols’ primer open a door into the apparent impenetrability of Bulgakov’s theological thought? Is it basic enough to enable a casual reader to relate his modes of thinking to the heart of the Gospel? And, finally, can Fr Nichols lead us from the allegedly ‘empty tomb’ of Bulgakov’s theology to a living Christ for the Church and the world?
For Fr Nichols Bulgakov is, supremely, a theologian of ‘Wisdom’ and it is this Wisdom theology which appears as a continuous thread in his works; works which our primer attempts to open up to the reader. Fr Bulgakov’s theology has been labelled ‘sophiological,’ or a theology of the Wisdom of God. Most of us are aware of the so-called Wisdom texts of the Old Testament (Proverbs, Wisdom, Job, etc) and understand them as a phenomenon of Old Testament writing, and as such texts which give out mixed messages. Sometimes Wisdom is perceived as a divine attribute, sometimes as a human response. Biblical scholars, especially of the West, do not find it easy to give a theological account of them, Fr Nichols claims.
Bulgakov believed he had managed to square the theological circle, which could be incorporated into his understanding of Church dogmatics. Fr Nichols traces Bulgakov’s sophiology in relation to his dogmatics and indeed ‘there are very few areas of dogmatics where it does not enter,’ at least when used as a tool to enlighten the dimmer corners of Bulgakov’s speculative thought.
It is, perhaps, Fr Nichols’ first chapter ‘The Triune Lord and His Nature as Wisdom’ that is the key to all that follows. It is in the light of Wisdom, and its operation within the life of the Holy Trinity, that all other topics dealt with by Bulgakov are illuminated. Yet it is precisely this area of Bulgakov’s thinking which was, and is, the most controversial. There is no point in pretending that this chapter, fundamental as it is, is an easy read. Yet, because the Holy Trinity is the foundation of all Christian revelation, unless a casual reader grapples with this idea the rest will remain, if not impenetrable, then at least dim.
So, as the archetypal casual reader, how would I answer my three opening questions? My answer concerning Fr Nichols’ ability to open a door into Bulgakov’s sophiology is yes and no. Readers owe him a debt of gratitude for the enormous labour of love that this book represents. But the primer is, in itself, a tough book. Second, can it lead us through to the heart of the Gospel? Is it basic enough to encourage further study? I suspect that if the reader has no prior knowledge of sophiology, then both Nichols and Bulgakov would be the theological equivalent of trying to learn maths by starting with Newton’s Differential Calculus.
That said, we need to have some sort of answer to the question of how the Wisdom texts and theology of the Old Testament relate to the Wisdom texts of the New Testament, that is to say, Christ and the Church the ‘Wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1.23 & 30; Eph.2.10); and not least how Wisdom relates to ‘the Word made Flesh’ of St John. And does Fr Nichols lead us from the ‘empty tomb?’ Again my answer is a qualified yes, for the Christ I found was a rather studious, introspective and scholarly Christ – perhaps he was that too!
LIFELONG LEARNING: THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION AND SUPERVISION
SCM, 192pp, pbk
0 334 02962 7, £14·99
This book is for those training for church ministry ‘in all its many forms and those responsible for that training.’ Its sources are ‘the current literature on supervision and theological education;’ limited to the last fifty years as bibliography and index indicate. The key goal of lifelong learning is ‘knowing in action by reflection upon practice’ and requires a change from a teaching Church to a learning Church. This needs a new model of God, who learns by interaction with the world that continually renews his nature through learning. ‘It is to hope to create ourselves in God’s image as we grow in understanding and in the desire to make a better world.’ Strange. God, not ourselves, has already created us in his image, and through grace transforms us into the likeness of it, that is not a product of our understanding or the desire to make a better world. Is not talk of a learning God creating God in our own image?
This is not theological education or ministerial formation but Clinical Pastoral Formation, a gnosis, a scientology of self-actualization, grounded in modern psychotherapeutic and sociological theory. Pastoral formation and pastoral theology becomes a thoughtless mimic of current psychological and sociological trends as it is accommodated into the practice, structures and professional apparatus of Christian ministry. It becomes a bondage to the assumptions of modern consciousness and a loss of pastoral identity, because the classical tradition of pastoral care is ignored.
This import from America has waned there after critical review from the ancient wisdom of the classical tradition of pastoral care in such writers as Thomas Oden. The Anglican author does not use the word priest, so there is no distinction between the nonconformist minister and the Anglican priest. There is nothing about priestly formation, the sacramental character of priesthood and its distinctiveness from the preaching style of nonconformist ministry, or the formation of any minister by liturgical and personal prayer or growth in grace.
For Christians, the end of human life is more than self-actualization; that is a grace not a technique, so that pastoral care cannot be limited to a scientism. Centred in our redemption in Christ, human and spiritual growth is nothing less than a Christian’s participation in God’s own triune life of self-giving love, which, when possessed, brings humans fulfilment as the virtues of self-giving love, humility and self-control come to the fore. It is from such lives lived in word and sacrament that the wisdom of classical pastoral care emerged in the great figures of this distinguished tradition. Such wisdom was not informed by techniques, but by Christian theology that did not neglect Scripture, tradition or reason and provided a credible pastoral theodicy.
There is no doubt that techniques of self-actualization can increase one’s self-knowledge, but like Jungian analysis, it can only be ancillary to human and spiritual growth and not the heart of it. We must resist intelligently the narcissistic imperialism and hedonistic reductionism prevailing in our culture and in the Church. We will do this if we define again what pastoral care is, and in what sense pastoral theology is and remains theology, and that means allowing ourselves to be carefully instructed by the classical pastoral tradition out of which that understanding can emerge.
Newton Publications, Old Rectory, Newton Reigny, Penrith CA11 0AY
300pp, pbk, 0 9549101 0 9, £9·99
Obscure perhaps, but a most unusual book, and nicely timed for the current pontificate. This offers some three hundred favourite English hymns translated into Latin, in each case with the same metre so that they can be sung to the same, already well-loved tune.
Anything missing? Sadly, there are no Marian hymns. Surely no category of hymns (except possibly invocation of the Holy Spirit) is more appropriate for singing in Latin. Instead we have such rousingly incongruous gems as ‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?’ or Tuane ancora tenet hieme. Another loss was a complete lack of introduction: so unusual an enterprise surely deserves some sort of explanation. We do not want a life history, but some sharing of enthusiasm, a few clues to us ignorami (nobis quibus ignoramus?) of what we may find hidden in these unfamiliar words would have been appreciated.
It offers a intriguing Latin exercise for the student, which is how I shall be enjoying it. My favourite at the moment is his translation of Reginald Heber’s ‘From Greenland’s icy mountain.’ I have sung it and it works well, to Wesley’s Aurelia. It was written for his father-in-law the Dean of Asaph, on the Saturday evening before the morning service at which he was to preach a sermon on mission; both clerical gentlemen would, I think, have appreciated this:
Septentrionis montes / et litus Indicum / flavumque circa fontes / Afros effluvium / palmetaqueˆet annosa / per orbem flumina / nos invocant perosa / erroris vincula.
Benedict XVI and Cardinal Newman
Edited by Peter Jennings
Family Publications, 176pp, hbk
1 871217 53 9, £24·95
This is a handsomely produced, large-format (A4) and lavishly illustrated volume, whose publication last October coincided – providentially – with news of a possible miracle cure attributable to the intercession of the Venerable John Henry, Cardinal Newman. Will we indeed see the first Pope of the twenty-first century declare Newman to be a Saint, and thus raise the first Englishman (save the Martyrs) since the reformation to the altars of the Church? No doubt many readers of New Directions already habitually pray for the advancement of the cause of Newman the ‘writer, preacher, counsellor and educator,’ in the words of the prayer for his beatification and canonization.
The essays and articles reproduced in this book come from a wide range of sources, and span the last twenty five years or more. Contributors include not only Benedict XVI and John Paul II, Basil Hume, Edward Cassidy and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, but also our own Bishop Geoffrey Rowell. Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ piece on Newman’s pastoral work in Birmingham helpfully reminds us that we look to Newman not just as one who offered the gifts of his intellect in the service of the Church, but who excelled, too, in his devotion to the poor. It is in the exercise of Newman’s vocation to be a parish priest that Nichols sees the ‘depth of his holiness of life’ shining forth most clearly. Fr Paul Chevasse, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, and Postulator, contributes a thorough account of the history and progress of the Cause for Newman’s beatification and canonization thus far.
The book is principally about John Henry Newman; but it is also, as the title indicates, about the present Pope, whose first homily as Benedict XVI, along with the sermon at his inaugural Mass, are printed together with accounts (and photographs) of his first appearance on the balcony of St Peter’s after his election, and of the inaugural Mass itself.
The photographs and illustrations are all reproduced to a high standard, some for the first time. So familiar are we with images of the Roman Catholic Newman, the older Newman, that the sketch of the Anglican divine preaching at the University Church in 1841 comes as something of a surprise. What young Turks those Oxford Movement fathers really were!
Benedict XVI and Cardinal Newman is a coffee-table book for the very best sort of coffee-table, and is well worth the twenty five pounds.
GREEK MONASTERY COOKERY
Eptalofos, 368pp, hbk
960 8360 36 6, T14
After six issues in the original Greek, this cookery book now appears in English. Some simple and wholesome recipes if you can but get hold of the ingredients (remember that the quantities are designed for ten, ‘taking into account that an average monastic community consists of 10 monks’). It is also, by the simple practical character of the book, a useful encouragement to cooking for fasting days: its principal purpose according to the author is exactly this, ‘to persuade others to keep the fastings of our Church.’
It is also a fascinatingly oblique revelation of Greek Orthodox culture. The translation is not, as one would have expected, by someone whose first language is English, but by a Greek person with good but far from perfect English. It conveys, therefore, that deliberate mix of strangeness, mystery and obscurity that is part of Orthodoxy’s cultural definition. Mixed with the pious other-worldliness of the monk-author, it makes for a delightfully different book to have in a kitchen.
Do not expect it to be immediately practical. Can you get hold of trahanas (a kind of dried curd and flour mix)? Do you know what kind of fish is a ‘porgy’? And just exactly what is ‘rustic yellow flour’ (a clue, it is not ‘corn-flour’)?
Mainly vegetables and fish (the monks do not eat meat) but, of course, Greek fish and vegetables; that is the difference. It makes one realize how much easier it must be to keep a good Lent when one lives in the eastern Mediterranean. Many of us would willingly swap.
So if this book is not obviously useful, why read it? Because it gives a better picture and understanding of the practical aspects of fasting than any other cookery book I have found in English. Fasting is not just a list of fasting days; it is not just a list of forbidden foods; it must come to be a way of life and understanding. And a feel for healthy living: ‘If we judge from the longevity of the monks, this cuisine is the healthiest one, and hence it will stay modern forever.’
On a slice of life
It was a quiet Christmas and New Year on the Square: only the sad death of some old lady followed by a traditional East End funeral: one that looked likely to rival that of Fr Stanton all those years ago. And there was the murder of the good-looking young one, Denis, who died only to rise again in a hit West End musical. From east to west a perfect transition from the ridiculous to the sublime.
Denis has just been married to the adopted daughter of his father, also Denis, but helpfully known universally as ‘Dirty Den.’ He was murdered last Christmas (it must run in the family) possibly for the second time. He had disappeared from the Square for many years. We all thought that he had been shot, fallen into a canal and drowned. But if they could not finish off Rasputin in like fashion, similarly, they could not finish him and he returned to the Square full of life only to be done to death by his second wife and buried in the cellar of the Queen Vic.
She (that is the wife not Queen Victoria – but no doubt she will make an appearance in the Square at some time) brazened it out and put the blame on some hapless bimbo who spent a long time in jail awaiting trial. But her brothers, Phil and Ross, returned, sorted it all out and split up again to fulfil the last of their meagre engagements until they return full-time, pantos permitting.
After a year of many comings and many more goings the questions which arise include: is it always so easy to obtain flight tickets at such short notice; is there a constant supply of black cabs waiting round the corner to ferry the residents to airports or ‘up west’ for shopping sprees?
There are seismic shifts in Walford. Ratings were down. Story lines were absurd: marriage, birth and death of a spouse (or more likely birth, marriage and death) could happen within a few weeks. It will not be long before they happen within an individual episode.
Now over in the Street they allow plots to develop over a very long time. The classic serial killer ploy was spun out over a year or more: the fascinating manipulative relationship between the blousy bar manager and the sinister builder was slowly developed. No such luck in the Square.
Entire families come and go, rise and fall like the less memorable Roman Emperors or short-reigning Popes. The grim reaper cuts swathes through the Square from time to time, or characters are uprooted to unlikely sounding places like Nottingham. But, to be fair, the Street regards Sheffield as some kind of Gulag. Nick Tilsley was consigned to that fate and the news was greeted as if he was off to the ends of the world. There was not so much fuss made when years before he had gone on a day trip to Canada and had not returned for ten years or so.
Perhaps the real trouble in the Square is that the producers are not ruthless enough. A plane crash wiped out vast numbers of the cast of that village up in Yorkshire. Another plane crash has just taken off surplus characters in Ramsey Street. A few years ago some enormous explosion took out the cast of Family Affairs (I have no idea where that is set and care even less) but the powers that be have now bitten the bullet and the programme is to end, just like Brookside, not with a bang but with a whimper. So there is the answer.
Let a hurricane sweep through the Square. Let us see Dot and Jim, Pauline, Sonia (plain girl, how does she ensnare such attractive boyfriends? the age of miracles is not dead), Martin, Johnny, Ian, whatever his latest love interest is called, the new Deano (a few more acting lessons may have helped), Phil, Peggy, Billy, Little Mo, Big Mo, Middle-sized Mo, Uncle Shane Ritchie and all be swept away. They have been here too long for any good they are doing. In the name of God, go.
Like the Roman Empire according to Gibbon, let them sink in the stew of their own moral decadence. It has become too real life. Celebrity Big Brother is unreality TV. The soaps are the new reality.
It has all become too much like a bad dream; much like the bad dream of poor Bobby Ewing. Bring down the curtain. And while he is at it could the Director General, whose vast salary we pay, ensure that he stops the ceaseless drivel of Thought for the Day, removes the execrably bland Titchmarsh from our screens, and finds no place in the schedules for the insufferably smug Huw Edwards, who has managed to ruin every major event he has covered by mindless chatter, and pension off ghastly old Esther? Oh yes, and hire some decent newsreaders, shut up James Naughtie. And another thing… Normal Service will be resumed as soon as the rant ends.