IN TERRA PAX
City of London Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Hilary Davan Wetton
Naxos 8.572102, £6
As I write, the shops are displaying the dozens of recordings of carols and festive songs which are the inevitable accompaniment of Christmas. Composers who write carols tend to veer between the ethereal, the picturesquely pastoral and the rollicking, and this compilation from Naxos embraces all three styles. However, this is not to dismiss a collection which is more interesting than many. All the music is by composers writing in the twentieth century and most of them strong enough musical personalities to write with an individual voice within the conventions of the carol.
This said, I cannot avoid expressing my own preferences. I could manage without yet another recording of John Rutter’s saccharine What sweeter music, and since I thoroughly dislike the music of Gerald Finzi I regret that sixteen minutes of the disc are taken up by his In terra pax. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day by John Gardner has recently caught the popular ear with its catchy (and tricky) cross-rhythms and it receives a lively performance here, though as music it gets nowhere near the insight and mastery found in Gustav Holsts setting of the same words. Hoist is represented by Christmas Day, an effective if not inspired reworking of familiar carol tunes. His great friend, Ralph Vaughan Williams, contributes some folksong-based music which could hardly fail to be enjoyable. The contemplative aspect of the carol is well represented by John Joubert (Thereisno rose] andby Herbert Howells (Here is the little door and A spotless rose]. These are familiar enough, but they are so good that they never fail to achieve their intended effect. For Christmas in its more rumbustious aspects we are given A babe is born and Sir Christemas by William Matthias.
Perhaps inevitably, it is the least familiar pieces in this anthology which catch our attention. Kenneth Leighton was a composer somewhat out of the mainstream of mid-twentieth-century English music, and his work does not always make for easy listening. His A hymn of the Nativity to words by Richard Crawshaw is not lacking in bite, but it combines well and appropriately with the austerity of much of the music. This is a work which deserves to be more widely sung. Finally, there are three carols by Peter Warlock which I suspect will not be familiar fare. Of these, it is a particular joy to have at last a good recording of Balulalow. Why is this short but ravishingly beautiful carol so rarely sung? If this recording brings the work to popularity it will be a real achievement.
It remains only to say that the City of London Choir , plus the soloists, Julia Doyle and Roderick Williams, sing splendidly; that the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra plays with its customary excellence; and that the conductor directs his forces in a satisfying combination. This is a stocking-filler likely to please even the most determinedly unregenerate Scrooge.
Barry A Orford
G.K. CHESTERTON, THEOLOGIAN
Aidan Nichols OP
DLT, 208pp, pbk
97S 0 232052776 6, £12.95
Once upon a time it was my boast that I was the only man in Oxford to have read Brownings The Ring and the Book from cover to cover – until, that is, I met someone else who had done the same. It turned out, on comparing notes, that we had both developed a love of Browning from reading Chesterton’s book on him, and that it was Brownings alleged casuistry which had drawn us to him. Chesterton, you will remember, claims that Browning has a streak of almost divine compassion. He can find breadth and charity in the narrowest and meanest – in the bishop who orders his tomb, and in Mr Sludge the Medium. Casuistry, says Chesterton is not a crime but a science akin to botany. It rejoices to find beautiful things in unexpected places.
Aidan Nichols, in a book which deserves to be read by every lover of Chesterton and by those who are not yet such, majors on GKC’s literary criticism. He reminds us, at the end of a book which encompasses some acute analysis of both Heretics and Orthodoxy, what a brilliant expositor of Dickens Chesterton was. And he does so in the context of an examination of Chesterton’s eschatology.
All roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his character; and when we drink again it shall be from the great flagon in the tavern at the end of the world.’ The allusion, says Nichols, is obviously to Vickwick Tapers. And of course it is. But it is at the same time a key to the whole Dickens oeuvre. Freedom, and the sheer joy of being free to be human, is the great theme of Dickens at his best. When Arthur Clenham and Little Dorrit descend the steps of St Georges, Southwark they are already entering the ‘tavern at the end of the world!
It is Aidan Nichols’ strong suit that he gives us a valuable and valid insight into Chesterton the Theologian by way of a sympathetic account of Chesterton the writer and the man. He gives us a real sense of the almost visceral hatred which Chesterton showed to monism, scientism and the dehumanizing cult of Nietzsche. And he helps us understand how GKC’s Catholicism was not inimical to, but sprang out of, his Englishness. Both his Thomas Aquinas and his Francis of Assisi are studies in the relationship of the particular to the universal.
If I have one quibble about a book which undoubtedly earns our gratitude, it is this. That, as with William Oddies recent and equally impressive study, we are brought no closer to understanding the obviously crucial events at the Slade School. Chesterton was later to see them as formative, but he alludes to them in language which can only be described as evasive.
Clearly he did not merely turn in revulsion from Art of Arts Sake – like a self-righteous muscular Evangelical of public school provenance. Chesterton was too subtle for that. But what happened there made him the nuanced expositor and critic of literature and of culture which he was destined to become. It is not too much to say that it determined the mind-set of Chesterton the Theologian.
Will we every know what it was?
ENGLISH CATHOLIC HEROINES
Edited by Joanna Bogle
Gracewing, 324pp, pbk 97S 0 85244 185 5, £9.99
This is a collection of some 22 biographies of Catholic women over the ages, some saints, some almost-saints, but all exceptional or heroic in one way or another. Written by a [ variety of people, their style naturally varies; some are better than others, but all are worth reading – this is hagiography for the twenty-first century, informing, encouraging, inspiring.
A popular and attractive book, pious and easy to read. And now, suddenly, of more than usual interest. Now that Pope Benedict has opened the possibility of being both Anglican and Catholic, what does ‘English Catholic’ mean? This question will not be answered by academics, but by the cultural assumptions and expression of those who claim and use the title. We shall see if the nuances change from such books as these.
In terms of this book, the formal meaning is ‘English Roman Catholic’ women from the 1530s onwards. An opening essay on St Hilda and St Etheldreda (neither of whom have a place in the Missal), and ones on Margaret of Scotland and Julian of Norwich, are out of context and read as though they are Special pleading, an attempt to link back to a forgotten past.
There is a rich range of righteous women, including from the nineteenth century onwards not a few converts from High Church Anglicanism, some courageous, some immensely practical, some just lovely old ladies – the final piece on Helen Asquith is a rather charming personal memoir, and a fine justification of friendship between the young and the elderly. But in what manner are they English?
The most unambiguously English, I found, was Caroline Chisholm, the honorary Australian, who worked tirelessly from 1838 onwards to improve the lot of the young women emigres. Accompanying her soldier husband, she arrived in Sydney and very soon began the practical work of looking after single women who had arrived in the colony, giving them shelter and support and then finding them work and homes in the new settlements inland. It is an inspiring pioneer tale, and a ‘heroic’ life of vision and service. I read it proud that she is one of ours, that she is part of our history.
So what, to take an obvious example, of the leading English Catholic woman saint, Margaret Clitherow, who converted to Catholicism duringt he cruel and persecuting days of Elizabeth’s reign? Undeniably she is a martyr, and her memory must be cherished, and the sins of the fathers must fall on all who claim the title of Anglican. In terms of apology (on the contemporary political model) it is members of the Church of England who must offer that apology for a past sin. And yet, does she not stand for something more?
It is easier to present all Elizabethan Catholics as heroes, as most of them were, and all Church of England members as erastian, self-interested, cowardly time-servers, as many were, but is not Margaret Clitherow one of us? (She is not however – and I would say, to our shame – to be found in Common Worship.] If we could only read the drama of her martyrdom in York from a more political and less religious context, would she not mean more to us, would not her life, her choices and her courage have greater resonance?
The support she gained from her Church of England husband, for she began her conversion after their marriage, and from her friends and neighbours, despite the fierce penalties; the relationship with the clergy; the moves back and forth from prison to release, from safety to danger; all these are part of a larger historical drama that is part of all our heritage. And many of the issues remain live today.
All this is of interest to us, as we face the real prospect, of being thrown out of the Church of England and welcomed by Rome. How English will we be in our cultural outlook, as we are pushed to the margins? Certainly I read these lives with greater interest than I would have done two years ago. I want them to be part of my history, and part of our broader cultural memory.
If Margaret Clitherow is to be part of my history, if she is to be a saint for whom I develop a genuine devotion, will I cease in some way to be English? Or is it just romantic nonsense to believe that we might some day soon overcome the anti-Romanism that has been so much part of the national character for too long?
What We Do When We Read The Bible
SCM, 156pp, pbk
978 0 334 04216 7, £16.99
Walter Brueggemann was professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary from where he retired in the early 2000s. He is an academic with a pastoral heart that comes into play in this fine volume geared to help people use both minds and hearts to read the Bible.
It is a ‘how to’ book with some provocative studies of Genesis 50, Psalm 44, Isaiah 43, Jeremiah 5 and Habakkuk 3. These encourage
examination of the rhetoric of the passages, identification of key words and theological themes so as to open up what God may be saying in todays context. Brueggemann encourages the reader to build from the plain sense assisted as necessary by what he calls secondary sources: concordances, commentaries and Bible dictionaries.
He sees Scripture as subversive, literally providing a sub-version or redescription of reality that subverts dominant readings of reality. This subversion best occurs when readers escape the two tyrannies of mindless fundamentalism and rationalistic reductionism, ‘the tyranny of the academy.’ Brueggemannn also warns of two temptations that besiege Bible readers: privatization andpoliticization. Bible reading according to the author takes courage and imagination to range beyond the guidelines of dogma and the reasoning of scholars. As we move from studying the words to thinking and uttering our own words from them the Holy Spirit comes to make such words like a burning fire’ [Jeremiah 5.14].
This is a you can do it’ book from someone who has dedicated his life to Scripture and wants to serve the opening up of the Bible to help build fervent Christian disciples.
GOD’S GIFTS FOR GOD’S PEOPLE
Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament
£6 post paid, from Fitzwalter Press, Old Barn, Scotgate Close, Great Hockham Thetford, Norfolk IP24 1PF
What delicious timing. As we plan our move to the Ordinariate, or re-assess our existing ecclesial community, here is a beautifully produced booklet that expresses wonderfully a central element of the Anglo-Catholic patrimony. It is not that we (clergy and laity) are better at celebrating the Sacraments, but that the fact of having to fight for every single aspect of Catholic teaching and practice has given a beauty and seriousness to our celebration that may not be found as easily in RC churches.
Why should the Blessed Sacrament be reserved in our church? How should we as a congregation respond to its reservation? How should proceed if we wish to introduce the discipline, and how do we deal with the diocese? For many this is battle fought and won decades ago, perhaps before living memory, but for some churches (especially smaller, rural churches) the issue is a live one.
There are many things that make this a gem of Anglican reasonableness. Excellent presentation, the careful balance between serious devotion and ‘ordinary’ lay spirituality. The discrete, but politically vital photo at the bottom of a page near the end, captioned ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury officiates at Benediction.’ A use of gentle argument, elaborated in such a way that it could be read and understood by any intelligent churchgoer, even a member of the Prayer Book Society.
The detail I particularly liked was a close up of the priestly author’s hands, holding up the sacrament at the Invitation at the Eucharist. True Church of England parson as he is, he must be wearing a clerical stock, for beneath his alb and cassock one can see the white double cuffs of his shirt with the proper style of double-sided cufflinks. How could you not be persuaded by so traditional and reliable an authority?
‘I like being in parish ministry’
Twenty-Third Publications, 46pp, bldt 158595 193 5, £3.99
The RevdThomas Baker is apermanent deacon in an American Roman Catholic parish. He is also a professional writer, which makes this introduction to ministry easy to read and unexpectedly authoritative – he knows of what he speaks and conveys it well. His description is especially valuable because the Roman Church is ■ the only communion still serious about the ministry of deacons.
The Church of England, with all its (non-theological) struggles over priesthood, has – we must surely admit – failed in its own attempt to revive the permanent diaconate. Sadly, Forward in Faith and its sister organizations in the Catholic wing of the CofE, have done no better, for all our supposed closeness to our Roman brothers. Was this because we were afraid of the women? Probably, but it is not exactly a compelling excuse.
Taken that there will be deacons in the Ordinariate – and indeed that there are still some in the CofE – this is the best, readable introduction I have yet encountered. No, it is not a profound study, but an accessible description of what they do, what they bring to parish life, and why it is a vocation that should continue to be encouraged.
Baker is clear about the problems: he admits that he often suffers misunderstanding, mockery, even downright opposition; he also acknowledges that the post-Vatican-II revival may not, in the end, prove to be a lasting contribution to the life of the Church. He acknowledges that the clericalizing of assistants to the parish priest (one of the most obvious roles for a deacon) may have a damaging effect upon the integrity of the laity -if so many lay leaders are turned into clergy. It is his honesty about the doubts and problems that makes his writing so refreshing and encouraging.
The role of a deacon as a go-between between nave and sanctuary is his principal ‘argument,’ but I was even more struck by the gracious way he is able to turn the widespread (and demeaningly mistaken) view, that deacons are essentially servants, into a more solid and biblical presentation of one of three orders of the Sacred Ministry. I came away more than ever saddened that our own Church has turned its back on its own experiment. His discussion of the deacons family has considerable resonance with the arguments for married clergy advanced by Anglicans. His brief suggestion that women should be admitted to the diaconate is both gentle and reasonable. If you are hoping to become a deacon, or wish to welcome one to your parish, or are looking for something that might persuade a slow-on-the-uptake archdeacon this is the best introduction I have encountered.
EXPLORING PRAYER WITH THOMAS MERTON EXPLORING PRAYER WITH THERESE OF LISIEUX
Compiled by Tony Castle
St Pauls, 48pp,pbk 978 0 85439 764 8, £3.50 978 0 85439 763 1, £3.50
However long you stay in a parish as a priest, and however assiduously you teach about prayer, faithful members of your congregation will still insist they
need more help and more teaching. If praying were easy, we would all do it, not just in occasional moments of crisis but every day and all the time.
Sometimes there is need for clear teaching, sometimes all that is necessary are sharp, concise reminders. Short statements gain power by the authority of the speaker, and in these two little books we have a saintly couple of opposites – one the little flower who ended her simple and enclosed life at the age of only 24, the other a university teacher who travelled the world and talked with its leaders.
These are essentially of help in meditative prayer and, as the title implies, for those exploring prayer as the means of deepening their relationship with God. The short extracts may seem rather zen-like in their brevity, but the authority of the author encourages one to re-read, and reflect upon them more carefully. It would be tempting and easier to read a proper book (i.e. watch someone else do the work) rather than have to do the work oneself but that, ideally, is what this format should encourage.
Nigel Anthony \ND\
There are discounts if you wish to order a number of copies. So if you are thinking of introducing an aumbry or tabernacle (or wishing to encourage your vicar to do so), this is exactly what you need. James Stephenson