GERHARD RICHTER: PANORAMA
6 October 2011–8 January 2012 Admission £12.70, concessions available
THIS IS a good show. The pictures are easy to see. It has been excellently curated by the directors and staff of Tate Modern. And the short, free guide provides a clear introduction to the artist. Many critics consider that Richter is now the world’s greatest living painter, and even if you’ve never heard of him, or don’t much care for his work, the show is currently the one to see in London.
Richter is German. He was born in Dresden in 1932 and his work engages with key events in German history during his lifetime. Pictures of the Baader-Meinhof gang, of bombed cities and warplanes, of war criminals and an uncle in uniform reflect on the violence of the period. And the pictures of that materialist pin-up, the sports car, show the economic miracle of West Germany through the eyes of an Easterner. There are also themes reaching back into the German past; landscapes and seascapes which recall Caspar David Friedrich; and young blond couples outdoors in the next to nothing.
But Richter is not narrowly Germanic. A literally reflective piece on the Twin Towers and the Tate’s own series in homage to the minimalism of John Cage show his interest in the US. At the same time as making massive abstracts he is also able to relate to the great artists of the European tradition such as Vermeer and Titian.
And he explores what it is to be a painter today. In the first place that means the artist’s ability to make us remember with surprise what we didn’t know we knew. The paintings based on photographs have a very strong sense of how we might have come across their subjects in magazines. This truth is as much in the remembering how we saw these things as it is the formal objects of the painting. This theme progresses in later works which raise questions about how well we can see what first we remembered.
Then there is Richter’s own style. Many of the works are monochrome. Some have no features at all, others show objects as if we were looking at events on an old television. Very often there are blurrings or scratchings across the paint which disturb the otherwise picture perfect surface and content. But there are also bright, chromatic works and while some paintings are carefully structured others are more a product of the artist’s fingers, and some a bit of both.
There is no lack of confidence here. Partly this is because of Richter’s technical facility. Some of the paintings, notably of his daughter and of his second wife, are almost like photos and will say to some of us that Richter could have been a good artist if only he’d stuck to good, honest representation. These are the Vermeer influenced works and that of his daughter with head turned away has a marvellously very father/daughter feel to it. But the photorealism can tip over into kitsch.
A perfectly executed candle, one of a series from the 1980s, is just a little too like the kind of thing you might find on somebody else’s wall.
Richter’s confidence also allows him to make – and exhibit – mistakes. An ‘Annunciation’ after Titian is another example where Richter topples over into kitsch, but he uses it to make points about the beauty of the old tradition and how it is no longer possible for today’s artists. This is Richter’s second great strength, the way he can respect and move on from the past with complete confidence in painting itself. This confidence harks back to a late nineteenth-century understanding of creativity. Richter reckons that today only the artist can provide the prophetic insights which once the priest and the philosopher brought. And, at least when it comes to painting, Richter does manage to deliver a magnificent reply to Duchamp’s relegation of the painter into the company of the priest. His Ema (Nude on a Staircase) highlights the possibilities of paint against Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2. Richter’s practice trumps Duchamp’s theory.
But Richter is a big enough man to use some of Duchamp’s other insights about chance in, for example, the 1967 Four Panes of Glass. This brings us to the other side of his work, the abstracts and the simple arrangements of colour. Some of the abstracts such as Forest 3 are big enough to be almost a reworking of Monet’s Nymphéas. Other paintings which look like abstracts are close-up paintings of photographs, notably of brown oil.
It is a mark of Richter’s ability that he is able to paint so convincingly in these different ways. He poses questions about painting while at the same time painting something we might want to look at and something which speaks to us. Maybe he is the greatest painter of the current age.
PONTIFICAL HIGH MASS ACCORDING TO THE USE OF YORK
The Parish Church of All Saints North Street, York £10, available from North Street and at < www.allsaints-northstreet.org.uk >
THIS WAS the first DVD of a liturgical event I have ever bought and the priests and people of All Saints North Street are to be congratulated both for the research that went in to celebrating the Mass and also for producing a record of the historic event. It is difficult to know how to watch a recording of a religious service. We are called to worship God in the here and now not through a recorded medium, although I am not too concerned (as an Archbishop of Canterbury was with the Coronation) that people might watch the service with their heads covered and in public bars. That being said this DVD is an excellent resource for the historian and the liturgist alike.
The nuances of the York Use remind us that the liturgy of the Western Church wasn’t always as homogenous as it is today, that each area had its own rites and practices. Whilst these distinct rites continue elsewhere in the world in this country they have largely disappeared, with the exception perhaps of the Sarum Rite. It is in the beauty of the music and indeed the silence that we get a true understanding of how people worshipped in times past, praying along with the priest and sharing in the mystery in a very different way to the way in which we do in the modern rite with its emphasis on active participation of the laity that is much more tangible.
If I have any criticism it is that the camera work is not always as good as it might be and that does detract from the quality of the DVD. This is a DVD that needs to be watched a few times to appreciate all of the nuances, though the cover notes help in this regard.
The service book and CD recording of the Mass (both available from North Street) also help in gaining a deeper understanding of a fascinating rite. There will be some things I expect we will never understand, such as the rubric for the Bishop to lean on the shoulders of the deacon in giving his blessing: I can only think the rubric was added for an infirm bishop, but as with all historical gems we will simply never know for sure.
The Choir of Pusey House, Oxford / Edward Symington £10 + £2 P&P, available from Pusey House, Oxford. OX1 3LZ
THIS SPLENDID CD follows 2009’s Triduum Sacrum: Music for Holy Week and Easter. The title, Plorans Ploravit (‘weeping, she [i.e. Jerusalem] wept’) is taken from the text of Thomas Tallis’s ‘Lamentations,’ included here. Unlike its predecessor, this album does not have an obvious theme in terms of the liturgical context of the music, but like the first CD, Plorans Ploravit does deliberately incorporate ‘music drawn from the whole breadth of the tradition,’ as the Principal, Bishop Jonathan Baker, puts it in his contribution to the cover notes. The wide breadth and depth of musical styles and genres available to the children of the Oxford Movement – from Tallis and Byrd through to Stanford and Duruflé, – is intentionally used in worship at Pusey House, and so perhaps this CD does have a theme after all: the beauty of holiness, as it has been explored and developed by musicians of extraordinary talent from different parts of the world and liturgical and ecclesiological backgrounds through the centuries, and as it continues to be used in worship today.
All of the composers mentioned above are represented here: Byrd’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’, Duruflé’s ‘Ubi Caritas’ and Stanford’s ‘Beati quorum via’ being among the works which are performed particularly well. But pride of place must go to the track with which the CD opens, Bairstow’s ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence.’ From the beautiful octaves with which the piece opens to the full-blown triumphalism of the Alleluias at its climax, the choir get to grips with this stunning piece of patrimony with an infectious joy and compelling relish, making the Chapel of St Stephen’s House (Oxford’s other institution of Anglo-Catholic piety and learning) ring like the vaults of a great gothic cathedral, and belying their relative numerical modesty to tell forth the glory of God like a choir twice their size.
In short, this is a fine CD which shows off admirably both the riches of the Church’s musical inheritance, and the talent available in Oxford and thus to those who gather day by day and week by week at Pusey House to join with the angels in Bairstow’s masterpiece in shoutingexultingly the hymn: Alleluia! Full translations of the texts and illuminating cover notes round off the package. My only regret is that the twentieth (and twenty-first) century is not better represented here. An idea for Pusey House’s third CD, perhaps?
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Scholar, Monk, Bishop Edited by Benjamin Gordon Taylor and Nicholas Stebbing cr Canterbury Press, 224pp, pbk 978 853118685, £18.99
AS SOMEONE who has suffered the horror of feeling his shorts descend to his ankles halfway through a funeral service, I felt a warmth of kinship when I read in Bishop Bill Ind’s Foreword to this delightful and informative collection of essays, that Walter Frere was also known to go about ‘bare kneed’ beneath his cassock!
Introducing their book, the editors state that: ‘This book seeks to make Frere better known and to indicate the great range of his abilities and interests.’ They are to be congratulated on bringing together a skilled and knowledgeable set of contributors who give us clear but succinct insights into this remarkable, complex man.
Alan Wilkinson’s overview of the life of Frere tells of his privileged background, the tragic early loss of both parents and less than emotionally satisfactory upbringing. It tells of a man who comes across as cold and introverted, but who also has the ability to relate to the members of poor parishes and uneducated men and women, and who at one time held 800 children spellbound for day after day on one Mirfield Mission.
Under headings such as ‘The Community of the Resurrection’, ‘Frere as Superior’, ‘Controversies’, ‘Culture’, ‘War’, ‘Frere and Gore’, ‘Frere and Anglo-Catholicism’, ‘Frere and the ‘Women’s Movement’’, ‘Character’ and finally ‘Retirement and Death’, Wilkinson gives us tantalizing glimpses into the struggles and triumphs that, together, make up Frere’s life.
The other essays in the book help us to look more deeply into these individual facets.
John Davies examines Frere’s spirituality, so similar in style to that of Lancelot Andrewes. Steeped in the Scriptures and able to compose beautiful prayers, this austere priest was driven by a passionate concern for the disadvantaged and underprivileged.
Benjamin Gordon-Taylor shows us the remarkable teacher that Frere became. He was able to stir the imagination of his hearers, offering them a vision of what the Christian life and priestly vocation could become. John Livesley examines Frere’s time as a bishop. A controversial figure, his very vision and interpretation of the role of the episcopate was also the stumbling block to him achieving all he set out to do.
Alexander Faludy’s essay takes us into the world of Frere as scholar of the Reformation. At a time of catholic revival in the Church of England, the interpretation of that traumatic period in Church history was a minefield that Frere did not always safely navigate, but he meticulously examined it nonetheless.
Frere as the ecumenist is the subject matter of Bernard Barlow’s essay. Barlow’s unfolding of what might have happened if the Malines Conversations had succeeded is heart-breaking in the light of the present place the Anglian Church finds itself ecumenically.
Two essays by John Livesley and Philip Corbett examine Frere’s gigantic contribution to the liturgical life of the Church. His search for forms of service that would both speak to ordinary people and also unite the differing Anglian traditions is fascinating.
Peter Allen’s essay on Frere’s study of liturgical chant shows us once again the superb attention to detail which Frere brought to bear in all aspects of his life. What is particularly helpful in this essay is the way in which it looks ahead to the potential power of plainsong in helping form worship and faith.
George Guiver completes the set of essays by looking at Frere’s record as co-founder of CR. Like the fathers and mothers of the revival of the religious life in the Church of England, Frere sometimes had to enter uncharted territory to form a distinctive Anglican ethos. Like his monastic predecessors, he sometimes got it right and sometimes got it wrong!
Finally, Benjamin Gordon-Taylor lists the extraordinary and prolific writing that poured from Frere’s pen. A quick glance at this alone gives the reader a snapshot into the mind and passions of this giant of a personality.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this engrossing book. A very good Christmas present for anyone with a love of the Church of England.
A Very Short Introduction
Richard Bauckham Oxford University Press, 144pp, pbk
978 0199575275, £7.99
QUESTION: WHAT do Clausewitz, Freud, Martin Luther and the Marquis de Sade have in common? Answer: they all have volumes dedicated to them in OUP’s A Very Short Introduction series. Now, at number 275 in the series, they are joined by Jesus. The first chapter begins by making the point that to refer to the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Christ is to make specifically Christian claims about him. However, this is no liberal attempt to demolish those claims. Richard Bauckham, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews and Senior Scholar at Ridley Hall Cambridge, makes clear in the Preface that his focus is on the historical Jesus of the Gospels. He writes with the underlying view that the Gospels provide compelling testimony from eyewitnesses about the life, teaching, death and Resurrection of Jesus, and that in the context of history as it was written at the time, this testimony is not merely compelling but also substantially reliable. For reasons of brevity (at 144 small pages,
this is indeed a brief introduction) he presents his own take on what it is that the Gospels tell us about Jesus rather than extensively surveying the different fields of scholarly thought, though he does reserve special criticism for the Form Critics. Just occasionally, this same brevity left me wishing Bauckham had given more evidence for his assertions – that Jesus had six siblings, and that his radical subversions of social status excluded earthly concepts of fatherhood, for example – but this is the price that one must pay for such a concise and generally stimulating introduction to an enormously complex subject.
The thrust of the author’s argument is that the Gospels reveal Jesus as the Son of God, sent to bring in the kingdom and renew Israel’s relationship with the Father. He set about this task by radically interpreting the Torah, equating love of God with love of neighbour and insisting that the call to greater personal holiness demanded by the Pharisees must revolve around the moral demands of the law and not (as the Pharisees taught) by ever-increasing adherence to ritual purity. Bauckham notes that in Jesus’ vision the outlook for those who deliberately declined God’s amazing mercy was bleak. He insists that in the Resurrection appearances the Gospel writers recorded something which was new, a new form of bodily life: eternal life. And he concludes that if the Resurrection as we understand it did not happen then something equally extraordinary must have taken place to have the effect it did upon the followers of Jesus and their descendants.
This is, then, an academically rigorous introduction to a (mostly) orthodox understanding of Jesus of Nazareth, who is, ultimately, inseparable from the Jesus Christ of faith. There are helpful suggestions for further reading and a basic index. A number of black and white illustrations help to place Jesus in a historical context, and add to the attractiveness of the book.
Who would benefit from reading this? Inquirers about Jesus from any religious background or none, but also Christians seeking to remind themselves about the Incarnate God at the centre of our faith, and indeed intelligent newcomers to the Church hoping to find out more about the historical man Jesus whom they are beginning to recognize as the Son of God and Saviour of the world.
Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary Marcus Borg
SPCK, 352pp, pbk
978 0281064182, £12.99
IN THIS book, the American Episcopal New Testament scholar Marcus Borg sets out in the early years of his retirement a distilled resume of his life’s thinking about the person of Jesus in an easy-to-read single volume.
It is clear Borg writes from a distinctly liberal, North American, historical-critical perspective: he makes it clear he probably doesn’t believe Jesus was raised from the dead; neither does he think that during his earthly life Jesus was significantly more than a singularly inspired teacher and preacher; and he regards most of the doctrinal claims of the Church about who Jesus is with distinct suspicion, as things which can’t be proven one way or the other by the Scriptures.
I wouldn’t recommend this work as an orthodox introduction to what the Christian tradition has to say about Jesus and the Scriptures which bear witness to him. However, it does offer a classic exemplification of the contradictions and over-simplifications inherent in a certain sort of liberal perspective, and gives some interesting insights into American theological discourse at its most polemical.
This book suffers from two significant shortcomings. The first is the way in which it assumes an American cultural context completely different from that found in the UK. I’m astounded that Borg’s editors allowed this to be published in England. For the book to be of any use in Britain, it needs a thorough re-working to make it applicable to a European context. It is clear Borg is writing against a very particular conservative evangelical biblical hermeneutic which is nowhere near as widespread in the Academy here as it is in the States. As part of this, he sketches out what he sees as two opposing outlooks to the Scriptures. One is what he describes as a ‘belief-centred’ paradigm in which the New Testament is read through the lens of Christian doctrinal presuppositions, and which characterizes the outlook of the American conservative Christian Right. The second outlook, the one which he advocates, is what he calls a ‘transformation- centred’ paradigm, centred essentially in a more liberal historical- critical attitude to biblical study, which sees the texts of the New Testament as the historically contingent products of a particular time and place.
Essentially, it is evident that the distinction Borg draws between these two outlooks is nowhere near as clear-cut as he makes out. People’s attitudes to the Scriptures fall into nowhere near as neat categories as he implies, and there is much from both perspectives one might want to retain in a fully integrated orthodox, yet critically rigorous, biblical hermeneutic.
The second significant shortcoming revolves around all the usual inconsistencies and contradictions inherent in a particular sort of liberal scholarship. Borg is fundamentally stumped by Chalcedon. He simply can’t conceive that a truly human person can be God. According to Borg, we need to dig through texts of New Testament and the accretion of Nicene doctrine to get back to the undistorted Jesus of history. Borg evaluates which bits of the New Testament he considers more reliable than others, but it is intriguing how frequently the bits he judges most historically authentic are those that suit his theological perspective most. For example, he judges it highly unlikely that Jesus instituted the Eucharist, or spoke about his second coming and divine judgement, two of the most widely attested elements of the New Testament’s teachings. Yet, at the same time, he is convinced the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, attested in only one gospel, must undoubtedly have been taught by Jesus and sum up his liberal, inclusive gospel. Borg also argues the only questions one may appropriately answer by reference to the Scriptures
are historical rather than doctrinal ones and that we shouldn’t bring dogmatic questions to our reading of the New Testament. However, he then goes about using the evidence of the New Testament to argue against the doctrine of penal substitution, going about exactly the sort of theological reasoning that he argues shouldn’t be done!
This book seems endlessly to be creating straw men that simply don’t resonate much with my experience of British theological discourse. It is perfectly possible that this book’s polemic edge makes much more sense in an American context. I don’t claim there aren’t many elements of a conservative evangelical hermeneutic that I would want to argue against with Borg. However, it does seem that if ever one wanted evidence of some of the shortcomings and internal contradictions of Sixties liberal theology on a plate, they are offered to the reader here in this work.
BRITAIN’S HOLIEST PLACES
Nick Mayhew Smith Lifestyle Press, 544pp, pbk
978 0954476748, £19.99
LIKE MANY readers of New Directions I have accumulated quite a collection of guide books to Christian sites around Britain. At one end there are the gazetteers of medieval churches, with a bias towards architectural detail and artistic embellishment; at the other end are the celebrations of Celtic and pseudo-Celtic wilderness. This new guide, covering 500 sacred sites, will not supersede them, but it is unquestionably the best in the collection.
Coming from a small publisher, you may not have encountered it. Let me assure you that it is beautifully produced, with plenty of photographs, extremely well written, and with the best possible instructions on how to get there. In other words, it is good value and would make an excellent Christmas present. (I spent a day searching for one fine ruin in North Wales, only to be thwarted by discovering it was on
private land with no available footpath to it – here you will find full directions and the relevant phone number to ring for permission.)
Mr Smith has worked hard on his compilation, and comes to each site with a critical eye and a spiritual literacy. One of the reasons I know this is that he has included our own parish holy well: as far as I know, this has never been mentioned in any other guide book, so he was not relying on anyone else’s work, but he clearly spent a good deal of time (I am only sorry it was one of the times when the neighbouring farmer had drained off most of the water for his own use) and has understood what it is about.
The publisher’s blurb tells us he is a licensed Reader in a parish in south-west London; his own introduction says, ‘I lost my faith while researching this book, dazed by the amount of Christian strife that scars the land. But in the end I found a new one, because there is so much more peace to be found’. But while many books that seek places and a sense of place tend towards a nature worshipping sentimentality, he maintains a clear grasp of faith and history. He has an engaging style and an informed sympathy not only for the imagined original, but also for the altered or ruined remains.
There are all the great cathedrals, of course; all the finest churches; plenty of early chapels, whether from Celtic saints or seventeenth-century dissenters; plenty of holy wells; shrines, large and small; some little islands, old hermitages, martyrdom memorials, a yew tree, and the sites of visions. In each case, the author shares the focus of prayer and the power of place, with a critical grasp of the history involved.
If you are interested in the spiritual heritage of our country (and it has to be confessed, England and Wales are better covered than Scotland), or you want to seek out the great Christian places of prayer and worship, this is absolutely the best book going.
I think it might also be good for the lapsed and wary, those seeking the better-than-the-ordinary (turning their back on their parish church in its ordinariness). Encourage them to visit these holy places, and pray God that they may be drawn back into the fellowship of the church and people who made them holy.
FINDING YOUR WAY AROUND COMMON WORSHIP
A Simple Guide
Church House Publishing, 128pp, pbk
978 0715142363, £9.99
OVER THE past ten years the Liturgical Commission has produced a veritable smorgasbord of liturgical texts for every conceivable occasion (and some you never thought you would ever need). These texts reside in the many volumes of Common Worship either on the bookshelves of clerical studies or downloaded onto parish computers. How many priests and lay people, we might ask, have a working knowledge of all the texts? And, furthermore, how many would know where to find them? This book sets out to answer some of those questions.
As with all such guides there will be material that is obvious to the liturgically minded and well trained but there is much that will be of help. Whilst I would have thought it was obvious that one could celebrate the service of Holy Communion in contemporary or raditional language perhaps others don’t.
For the liturgically uninitiated this is an essential book and it will be of great use for those who are wondering where to find different seasonal material. This book does lead on to some interesting reflections. I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with the idea that if you want to simplify or shorten a service of Holy Communion you can celebrate A Service of the Word with Holy Communion because for a start I am not really sure what that means.
There is also information on the relative lengths of the Eucharist Prayers for Order One. Whilst I understand this might be useful in planning I don’t really think we can judge our worship of God by length of time or by how much is said. I might like my Sunday service to last no more than an hour but that doesn’t mean I won’t use a longer Eucharistic Prayer (such as the Roman Canon) when it is appropriate.
All in all this is a useful book and at a time when we are seeing an increase in clergy being trained on courses and part time it is a good starting place for liturgical exploration. I was interested to be reminded that according to Canon B5.3 you can change the words of Common Worship as long as they are ‘reverent and seemly’, although I suppose that is in the eye or the ear of the beholder.
Following Movements of the Spirit
Henri J. M. Nouwen, with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca Laird SPCK, 192 pp, pbk
978 0281064212, £12.99
FR HENRI Nouwen, who died suddenly from a heart attack in 1996 at the age of 64, made a huge contribution in the area of Christian spirituality in the Seventies and Eighties. A contemporary of Anthony de Mello and Gerard Hughes, he did much to create an approach to Spirituality founded on Catholic foundations and yet drawing
from eastern religions, and western art and music. Nouwen’s own work was distinguished by his pioneering contributions to the field of pastoral psychology. He spent the greater part of his career teaching psychiatry and spirituality at Harvard and Yale – his retreat work and more popular writing emerging from this academic milieu.
This book is the second in a planned series by former colleagues and pupils, who have used the Nouwen archive of articles in academic journals, lecture notes and recordings of addresses and lectures, to present, in a systematic way, the main features of his thought. The first volume was titled Spiritual Direction. This volume gathers together his thinking about the nature of ‘spiritual formation’.
The title itself is significant. It reflects Nouwen’s view that there is no such thing as ‘Spiritual Development or progress’. This is a deliberate reaction to both the classical and modern view of ‘progress on the spiritual journey.’ For Nouwen spirituality is rather formed by a constant movement or oscillation between different ‘poles’ or experiences. He admits that some of these ‘movements’ occur more significantly in earlier and later parts of the life.
The earliest movements are from ‘opaqueness to transparency’ and from ‘illusion to prayer.’ The mature movements include ‘from denying to befriending death.’ Nouwen describes how these movements and tensions can develop and return at different stages of life – but that the discernment of them, and engagement with them, is the raw material in the search for wholeness and holiness.
Nouwen, himself, underwent a dramatic movement in later life when he moved from academia to community life in a Canadian L’arche community. He passed though an experience of ‘breakdown’ to a renewal of his life and spirituality. This book contains much of his later insights and one of Nouwen’s great qualities is his ability to share his own experience and his reflection on it. I found much in what Nouwen said made perfect sense. I have always felt that the remark attributed to Ignatius Loyola was about right – ‘there is no progress in the spiritual life – just more.’
The compilers of this book should be thanked for presenting Nouwen in such a way that his work will make a lasting contribution to this field of study. It reveals a sharp and original mind open to work of the Holy Spirit. It is a pity he died so young.
Andrew Hawes ND