THE SACRED MADE REAL
Spanish Painting & Sculpture
National Gallery, Sainsbury Wing Exhibition
21 October 2009-24January 2010
In the years just before the Reformation the carving of religious statues in alabaster was one of England’s leading industries. Thanks to the Protestant iconoclasts there are few of these carvings left in English churches. So thorough was the iconoclasts’ work that serious religious carving hardly features in the generally understood tradition of British art before the Oxford Movement, and not much afterwards. Even today people’s attitude to religious statues is a good indicator of churchmanship.
The Protestant iconoclast still removes crucifixes, though he is less likely to replace them with the royal arms. He won’t justify his plain cross by reference to anything so old-fashioned as popish idol worship (he himself possibly worships PowerPoint). Instead he says the empty cross doesn’t frighten the children and it’s a symbol of the resurrection (why then doesn’t he fill his churches with statues of the risen Lord?).
In the middle of the churchmanship spectrum we findthose men and women who have begun to climb the ladder of preferment. The Divine Wisdom has thought it fit that the char ism poured out upon the rising cleric is not wisdom nor the fear of the Lord, but the grace of good taste and a cultivated manner so that the young thruster may tune into Classic FM and have his photo taken alongside a conventionally unconventional installation.
Finally, at the extreme far end there are the iconodules, the image lovers, the men with an exhaustive knowledge of all things Mediterranean, be it cathedrals, cheap restaurants or ecclesiastical tailors. They will be the ones most at home in the National Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition, The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting & Sculpture.
It’s a brave exhibition for the Gallery to mount. The show’s curator, Xavier Bray, one of the men behind the wonderful Velasquez exhibition in 2006/7, has been working for ten years to assemble some of the finest sculptures ever to leave Spain. Many of the fourteen works have never even left their churches except to be carried in devotion – the exhibition ends in good time for Lent and Holy Week.
The sculptures are all of carved wood which has been gessoed and polychromed. Bray describes them as uncompromising in their hyper- realism. Indeed, to create their attention-grabbing effects sculptors such as Pedro de Mena and Gregorio Fernandez added glass eyes and tears as well as ivory teeth to their work. Fernandez’s ‘Dead Christ’ uses cork bark to simulate Christ’s dried blood and bull’s horn for his fingernails. The life-size Decapitated Head of Saint John the Baptist’ looks only marginally less horrific. By contrast de Mena’s ‘Saint Francis standing in meditation’ and Montanes’ ‘Saint Francis Borgia meditating upon a skull’ are simply realistic and arresting. It would be tempting to compare them to waxworks, but the delicacy of their craftsmanship becomes apparent when compared to contemporary wax masks like that of St Vincent de Paul in the Rue de Sevres.
The sculptures are paired with contemporary Spanish paintings of similar topics from both the Gallery’s own collection and choice works from elsewhere, notably Zubaran’s ‘Saint Serapion.’ These arrangements illustrate the theory behind the exhibition, that there was a close relationship between the painters of painting and the painters of sculpture. This is clearly so with Francisco Pacheco, the great theorist of seventeenth-century Spanish painting, who painted the flesh and drapery for the god of wood’Montanes. He was also father-in-law and teacher of Velasquez. But it’s precisely at this point that the exhibition will need to prove its worth. Velasquez is not a hyper-realist. His use of paint is much more creative than Pacheco, more the point of what he is about. The Gallery’s lovely ‘Immaculate Conception’ may be of a common girl off the streets of Seville, but it doesn’t have the hyper-emotionalism of these sculptures. Even when Velasquez paints Christ tied to the pillar, a juicy subject to tug at our heartstrings, the figure is heroic, rather than the more naturally broken and bowed figures of the sculptures.
If we want to compare these sculptures with painting we should perhaps look to the Andachtsbilder, the devotional works of late Northern Gothic where there is a similar emotionalism and emphasis on suffering to stimulate devotion. Griinewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, where Christ is identified with plague victims, and Holbein’s ‘Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb’both have much in common with Fernandez’s Dead Christ! Indeed, some early sixteenth-century paintings of the crucifixion are too horrific even for Google, but they tell us what our sin cost Jesus.
So it should be worthwhile going along to the National Gallery for this show. There are very fine paintings and some sculptures you won’t see in London again. There is stimulation for the brain in trying to see what influence the sculpture had on the paintings.
And, ifthat fails, you can see where you come on the sliding scale of iconoclasts and iconodules.
CALLED OUT OF DARKNESS INTO MARVELOUS LIGHT
A History of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, 1750-2006
Wipf and Stock Publishers, 376, pbk 978 1 60608 163 4, £27.50
In 2008 Pittsburgh ‘s Diocesan Convention voted by sizeable majorities (clergy 79%, laity 63%) to leave The Episcopal Church. This officially-sponsored history aims to help both those who have left and those who remain to understand how Pittsburgh’s stance became so distinctive that, given TEC’s unwillingness to embrace diversity, separation seemed the only way forward.
Before the Forties Pittsburgh differed little from other dioceses. Bonner explains its subsequent divergence in terms of ‘deinstitutionalization’ (1944-69), self-definition’ (1970s-1980s) and globalization’ (1988-2000).
In 1865 a high churchman was elected as Pittsburgh’s first bishop. Evangelicalism was also prominent, but was supplanted from the 1880s by broad churchmanship – exemplified nationally by Phillips Brooks, who ‘borrowed from evangelicalism’s commitment to the individual’s subjective religious experience, but abandoned both confessional standards and ecclesiastical discipline! Social responsibility and ecumenism were emphasized by an Episcopal Church whose growing popularity with social elites enabled it, despite its small size, to imagine briefly that it might form the core of, or even become, America’s ‘national church.’ Institutions with paid staff were established from 1910 at diocesan level and 1919 nationally. What had been a congregational church’ in which ‘the diocese was pretty much a legal fiction’ became increasingly centralized and institutionalized.
Like The Episcopal Church nationally, Pittsburgh grew dramatically in the post-war era. By 1960, 25 missions had become full parishes and ten new congregations hadbeen formed, making 80 in all. At the same time the seeds of difference were sown. Liturgically and doctrinally a high churchman, Pittsburgh’s fourth bishop, Austin Pardue (1944-67), encouraged prayer ministries’ and the ministry of healing; by the mid-Fifties half of the parishes had regular healing services or groups.
In 1952 Pardue brought in Samuel Shoemaker, who instituted the interdenominational Pittsburgh Experiment – prayer groups aimed at the wider community, especially businessmen. This marked a shift from institutional engagement with society. Pardue asked that Episcopal groups include a priest and begin with Holy Communion.
Within a framework of church order, he gave the diocese a spiritual basis that transcended earlier churchmanship divisions.
Under the moderate liberal Robert Appleyard (1968-82), Pittsburgh embraced the civil rights movement and democratization of church structures. However, as in The Episcopal Church nationally, there was increasing polarization. Some wanted to reflect ever more closely secular society’s concerns (for instance, supporting abortion – Pittsburgh’s first woman priest was also its leading advocate of abortion on demand) while others emphasized distinctiveness. Bonner stresses majority acceptance of women’s ordination but recognizes the debate over it as crystallizing the concerns of many over TEC’s ‘theological trajectory!
Incipient culture wars made Pittsburgh fertile ground for the growth of neo-evangelicalism. Its leading figure was John Guest, an English Billy Graham convert influenced by John Stott, who moved to Pittsburgh in 1968. St Stephen’s, Sewickley where he was rector from 1971, became a national centre for evangelical renewal. The Seventies also saw growing links with Anglicans in South America and Uganda (Bishop Fesfo Kivengere, who had studied in Pittsburgh, led a mission in 1973).
Two events were crucial for both self-definition’ and globalization.’ In 1975 (at Guest’s instigation) Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry (TESM) was established, self-consciously alternative to The Episcopal Church’s existing seminaries. (Perhaps the book’s most important lesson is the essential role of a seminary in moulding and maintaining identity.) Then in 1980 (at Guest’s suggestion) Alden Hathaway a former social liberal who had undergone a dramatic personal conversion, was elected bishop.
By the mid-Eighties Pittsburgh was distinct from most TEC dioceses; by the mid-Nineties TESM-trained neo-evangelicals were dominant among its clergy. Hathaway strengthened foreign links: South Americans and East Africans trained in Pittsburgh; Pittsburghers worked in Chile and Uganda.
The South American Missionary Society and other parachurch organizations movedtheir headquarters to Ambridge (home of TESM).
Robert Duncan was appointed canon to the ordinary’ in 1992 and elected to succeed Hathaway in 1995. During the Nineties the dismay of what was now a conservative majority in the diocese at developments within TEC grew, with homosexuality a defining issue. Pittsburgh’s Standing Committee generally voted against confirming the election of women bishops (while claiming to object to their theology not their sex). Many parishes paid the national church’s share of their quota to other projects approved by the diocese. Especially after 1998, disaffection with TEC was balanced by growing bonds with TESM-trained African bishops. In 2000 the Rwandan Bishop John Rucyahana, who had studied there, joined in consecrating TESM’s retired dean John Rodgers as a bishop of the new Anglican Mission in America. From about 2002 positions on both sides hardened. With hindsight, the ultimate separation seems inevitable.
Like nineteenth-century evangelicals, Pittsburgh’s neo-evangelicals emphasize conversion, but the differences are more striking. They value intellectual rigour (would earlier evangelicals have paid an academic historian a stipend to write this dispassionate diocesan history?). They also stress Anglican identity, appealing to international Anglican councils whose authority earlier evangelicals would have denied. Bonner recognizes pragmatic motivations, but argues that this also reflects a new and more catholic ecclesiology for American evangelicals which the Diocese of Pittsburgh has helped to foster!
Why catholic ecclesiology was embraced is not discussed. Was it significant that Robert Duncan was an Anglo-Catholic before he became an Evangelical, trained like Pardue at the General Theological Seminary? Did alliance with Anglo-Catholics have an effect? Analysis of Pittsburgh’s influence
on developments in TEC would also have been useful (as would an index). Is it significant that Keith Ackerman, John Howe and Mark Lawrence are all former Pittsburgh clergy? How far is American neo-evangelicalism a Pittsburgh export?
This insightful, fair-minded and illuminating study poses a challenge. Pittsburgh has shown how prayer, conviction, imagination, determination and generous giving can transform a diocese in a generation. In the past Anglo-Catholicism transformed the Church of England. What prevents us from transforming our situation today?
THE LABOUR OF OBEDIENCE
The Benedictines of Pershore, Nashdom and Elmore-A History
Canterbury, 216pp, pbk 9781853119743, £21.99
Anglo-Papalism is a section of Anglo-Catholicism, itself a section of Anglicanism which is a section of Christianity. The Benedictines of Pershore, Nashdom and Elmore are historic champions of this section of Anglicanism, but they have had an influence that is far from narrow or sectional. Peta Dunstan’s history traces Anglican Benedictine life through its heroes and their struggles with the esf ablished church over a century to this day.
The story of Nashdom is the story of charismatic, sometimes flamboyant leaders who give their all to an ecumenical vision of the Anglican church as a true branch of the catholic church with a homing instinct for papal oversight. Reading The Labour of Obedience is a reminder of how sadly alien that instinct has been to much of the Church of England.
It is a good story tinged with irony and sadness. The vision for Latin worship in baroque splendour that sustained the early years was wrong-
footed as the great church of the west largely abandoned Latin and baroque for vernacular simplicity in the wake of the 1962-5 Vatican Council. Anglo-Papalism that had stood against a more moderate Anglo-Catholicism saw Pope Paul VI making reforms endorsing aspects of the Anglican reformation.
The Labour of Obedience charts the rise and fall of a community that now has a conventual prior rather than an abbot. The history is set against the backcloth of an erosion of Christian commitment in our land which has contributed to a severe decline of professions to the religious life. Dunstan points out that though Elmore’s monks are now few, the external oblature of the community numbers several hundred, indicating the wider impact of the monastic community.
Although I have been an occasional visitor to the community my own priestly vocation was inspired by a Nashdom oblate as well as a priest who served at All Saints, Margaret Street under the saintly Dom Bernard Clements, famous for his radio talks. My liturgical vision, like many Anglo-Catholics, is in debt to Dom Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy. Despite its eccentrics Anglo-Papalism is a prophetic and bridge-building stream within Christianity. It has a force about it that relates both to confidence about what the Church is all about and to robust spirituality.
Pascal said the silent beauty of a holy life is the most powerful influence in the world. The Labour of Obedience charts such a powerful influence towards wholehearted Christian commitment that goes beyond the pages of this study.
The Revd Drjohn Twisleton Rector of St Giles, Horsted Keynes
A Spiritual and Cultural Journey
Lion, 224pp, hbk 978 0 74595 270 3, £20
When I was 11 I read excitedly Robert Wesf all’s A Kingdom by the Sea, in which the main character a young lad called Harry makes thejourney to Lindisfarne. Reading the book filled me with all the excitement that surrounds any journey but in particular a journey to a holy site. I didn’t often get to Lindisfarne but was able to make pilgrimage across the river from school to the shrine of St Cuthbert and there kneel as countless pilgrims had done before and ask the saints intercession for my GCSE results or the house singing competition!
Ian Bradley shares my love for pilgrimage, and whether you know him from the radio talking lovingly about the Buxton Gilbert and
Sullivan Festival, Victorian hymnody or the Celtic saints you can be sure that he loves making journeys to sites associated with all of these things.
This book inspires one to make the journey, to travel as countless have done before you to a holy site and there to pray (personally I have been inspired to consider doing Cuthberts Way – a journey Bradley himself has made on numerous occasions).
Bradley is quick to remind us that pilgrimage is not just the destination but the journey itself, the people you meet, the places you see and the prayers you are able to offer.
This well-illustrated book is divided into two sections. The first deals with history and development of pilgrimage in the Church and more particularly in the British Isles, with sections on Walsingham, Canterbury and St Davids. Bradley does well in reminding us that there are many sites of pilgrimage in the British Isles that are no longer frequented by pilgrims and indeed shrines that are almost ignored.
It is to be hoped that these sites will once again flourish. In our constituency this has been aided by the Catholic Societies who often arrange day pilgrimages to sites (for example, there are pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady at Jesmond and at Haddington).
The last chapter of the first half of the book is entitled ‘How to be a pilgrim’ In it Bradley encourages pilgrimage that can be undertaken in a persons own church or at home through the stations of the cross or by having a labyrinth set up in a church. Bradley is also keen that we should embrace the virtual aid and through the internet make a virtual/ spiritual pilgrimage to places such as Guadalupe which might be out of reach for many.
The second half of the book offers guides to different places of pilgrimage both in this country and on the Continent. These are written in an easy-to-read style and from Bradley s own perspective and they offer the reader a glimpse at what a pilgrimage to the place might be like. The Celtic influence is clear in the places Bradley chooses to include, with sites in Wales, Ireland, Iona, Northumberland and St Andrews. St Andrews may seem an odd choice but it was once a place of great pilgrimage and has much to offer the pilgrim now as it did in the Middle Ages.
All in all this is a wonderful book and well worth giving as a present (perhaps to a confirmation candidate?). Pilgrimage has become an important part of the Catholic constituency in the Church of England. Whether it is in Walsingham, or further afield in Rome, Fatima, Lourdes, Taize or Knock, we as a constituency come together and experience a deepening of our faith together.
We acknowledge that we are a pilgrim people together, that we walk together sharing our faith journeys – as we go perhaps in spirit we join in one of Bradleys favourite pilgrim hymns written by Norman Macleod (1812-72): ‘Courage brother! do not stumble though thy path be dark as night; there’s a star to guide the humble: ‘trust in God, and do the right!”
Win Paul Young
Windblown Media, 248pp, pbk 978 0 340 97949 5, £7.99
‘The most heart-warming, inspirational story I have read in decades -J.John’.
Since it was published in the States two years ago, it’s a safe bet there have been more copies sold of The Shack than all the books reviewed in New Directions in that time. I first came across the book through a friend who had been given it by the Dean of St Albans.
Whether the J. John whose puff graces the back cover is the reverend Dean or an itinerant evangelist from Chorley Wood who bears the same name I am not sure.
More to the point, does the book live up to the come-on? It is very much an expression of the author’s wrestling with his past. The child of missionaries, he suffered sexual abuse first from the New Guinea tribe he lived among and then at a Christian boarding school. He struggled in later life, hiding his troubled past in what he calls ‘The Shack,’ until his inner demons boiled over in an affair with his wife’s best friend and he had ‘either to get on my knees and deal with my wife’s pain and anger or kill myself
It was partly to explain this to his family and a few close friends that Young wrote The Shack. Then the book was rewritten, privately printed and became a publishing phenomenon through internet recommendation.
Whether or not it will go the way of other recent Christian publishing sensations or stand up there with The Pilgrim’s Progress and the works of C.S. Lewis as its supporters claim remains to be seen.
If it were a matter of prose style The Shack would disappear without trace. Books which are as badly written as this one rarely last. But Young does write from the heart. He has the conviction of all goodbad writers. And he articulates what looks more and more like a mainstream Evangelical take on Christianity.
It is these churches who have hoovered up this book, even though Young states that as a man damaged by the Church he believes ‘[the institutional church] doesn’t work for those of us who are hurt and those of us who are damaged.’
Maybe Evangelical Christians don’t believe they belong to a church. Young at least has the integrity not to go to church much now, and this may be of a piece with his belief that it doesn’t matter how you come to God, you can be Muslim, Jew or non-believer. He might have taken a more nuance d view from Nostra Aetate, but then if you live in North America and have suffered sexual abuse the Church of Rome might not be your first port of call.
It’s no great surprise given his background that Young should also be very down on ritual, even though the book revolves around secular rituals. His home-made Eucharistic moment is particularly sentimental, though probably no more so than the average seminary worship experiment. More interesting is the shock and horror with which some Evangelical commentators have reacted to the way Young incarnates the godhead.
Now it is no great news, or it shouldn’t be, to say Jesus was Jewish. And it’s with ‘the East’ as if Christians have no spiritual tradition, though maybe that’s so for the people Young writes for. But to make the Father into an Oprah Winfrey figure says a lot about where Evangelical culture is heading. First, it shows a detachment from the revelation given by the Incarnation.
The biblical Father /Son relationship – ‘he who has seen me has seen the Father’ – is ignored in the game of undermining people’s prejudices. Like a good liberal theologian, Young suggests God had to appear masculine when mankind was less civilized but now we have advanced and God can appear feminine.
Quite what that says about the relation of the sexes or the depth of revelation Young doesn’t explore.
Indeed, in reply to critics who say his theology is wrong he has defended himself by saying he was only writing a story. That’s not an argument Bunyan or C.S. Lewis would have used.
But if God the Father is Oprah, Evangelical culture has become highly receptive to a liberal critique of the Christian tradition. This weakness shows in the handling of the Trinity, though it is good that popular writing should take the Trinity seriously. It also shows in Young’s attempt at theodicy.
One of the story’s main strands is that the central character had a young daughter abducted and killed by a serial killer while on a lakeside holiday (why anybody goes on lakeside holidays in the States is a mystery when the camps are such a magnet for serial killers).
What Young says about evil is often good; it’s an arm’s length take on the Augustine/Aquinas idea of evil as emptiness or non-being. And it is clear from Young’s own history and the responses to his book that too many people have been driven from Christianity by bad teaching about divine punishment.
But in the end, after lots of talking and hugs, God’s defence is not much more than ‘I feel your pain.’ That’s not the Alpha Course, though it is a crude summing up of much liberal theodicy. It also ties in with the Oprah theme. As in so many Westerns – and this book is saturated in a self-satisfied American culture – the purpose of the hero is to ‘do whatta man’s gotta do!
God’s role in this scenario is to help man’s self-realization, especially by taking away the obstacles of sin and guilt. There is no real sense that man is here on earth to glorify God.
For all the many good points Young makes along the way, this is a thin Christianity. And yet… in Private Lives Noel Coward has Amanda say, ‘Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.’ This book is cheap music. It may well be potent, not least because it reflects the prejudices and current spiritual direction of Evangelical opinion.
On balance, the puff on the back probably comes from the preacher from Chorley Wood rather than the Dean of St Albans.
Those who wish to follow up the commentary on Rubens’ Descent from the Cross (Sacred Vision, p 12) may be interested in some further reading.
Perhaps the most readable account of the careers of both Rubens and Rembrandt is Simon Schama’s beautifully illustrated volume Rembrandt’s Eyes [ Allen Lane , The Penguin Press, ISBNN 0-713-99384-7].
The Phaidon series Art & Ideas is highly to be recommended. The two relevant volumes are Rubens by Kristian Lohse Belkin [ISBN 0-7148-3412-2] and Rembrandt by Mariet Westermann [ISBN978-0-7148-3857- 1].
Westermann is also the author of a useful book on a related topic, The Art of the Dutch Republic [Laurence King Publishing, ISBN 1-85669-443-7].
Essential background is Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches [Fontana Press, ISBN 0-00-686136-9] and Jonathan Israel’s mammoth history The Dutch Republic : Its Rise, Greatness and Fall [OUP ISBN 978-0-19-829734-4] both of which deal with the cultural history of Flanders as well as that of the United Provinces.