Royal Academy of Arts, until 8th December, 2013 Admissions £14 (Senior 60+, £13)
TO THE ignorant Pom, Australian art is Rolf Harris or, at best, Sidney Nolan’s ‘Ned Kelly.’ This large exhibition from the cream of Australia’s national collections sets out to educate us with a generous overview of two hundred years’ artistic work from Down Under.
At first blush the show divides neatly between the work of Indigenous communities, patterned and dominated by whites and ochres, and Western inspired work which starts off green but then becomes more white and ochre over time. Either way dust and bright light are the two great themes of this show.
The Indigenous work is the most interesting; the tradition is that it is painted on rocks or in sand. It is large and, with the exception of Arnhem Land bark painting, it is static. A good example of a modern version of this is Dorothy Napangardi’s ‘Sand hills of Mina Mina’ which gives a delicious sense of the land, rolling and contoured. It is laid flat which makes the skillful texturing more apparent, even though it is achieved through polymer paint on canvas.
By contrast Emily Kngwarreye’s very large ‘Big Yam dreaming’ is Jackson Pollock gone walkabout. There is a critical case against much post-Seventies Indigenous art that it is as magpie and market-conscious as any of the other art sold to wealthy trophy hunters. But when the minimalism is elegant and austere, and the concern for the land and the environment are impeccable, who can blame the artists for taking their chance? Timmy Payunga Tjapangati’s ‘Sacred Sandhills’ fits all those hip categories and I still liked it.
However, time taken to read the pieties which surround this Indigenous art may over-stimulate the critical juices. Fortunately the dyspeptic viewer can take their bile out on some of the European inspired works at the Academy. The first of these are watercolours in the British tradition. They are very green and look back across the sea. Later these artists’ attentions shift away from green, watered landscapes and inland to the Outback. This shows earliest in the very German sublime of Eugene von Guérard. Sadly he lacks the spiritual intensity of his master, Kaspar David Friedrich,
and that’s how it goes for all the other waves of European tradition. There are heroic landscapes in the American manner with poor settlers and lots of nature. However, as Tom Roberts’ ‘Break Away!’ shows, when it comes to pioneer adventure, Australian sheep don’t have the charisma of a Mid-West cattle trail. Then there are the Australian Impressionists and Modernists. These are sentimental and lack any passion for new forms or subjects. An Impressionist pooch painted just before its disappearance, from the look of things it might have been eaten by a larger dog, is only challenged for the crown of kitsch by a Symbolist nude leading a flock of birds; or by Fletcher Martin’s quasi-Aryan ‘Australian beachside.’
The show is finally saved by Ned Kelly and Sir Sidney Nolan OM RA; the surprisingly small picture of the Australian rebel heading across the flat bush against a brilliant blue sky, part seen through his helmet, is the show’s come hither picture and worth the look. Nolan’s faux primitive style, think ochre Rousseau, combined with the surreal black figure of Kelly and the great landscape all work to give a genuinely outstanding painting. His other works from the Kelly series feature more people and are less compelling; as always Australian paintings work best when they feature the dusty land and great skyscapes.
It is customary to conclude a review of this kind of national show by pointing out all the artists who should have been represented. More useful to the reader maybe to lookup up Arthur Boyd’s ‘The lovers,’ a take-off of Picasso, on the Bonza Sheila website, which is a lot more fun than most of the rather earnest work at the Academy.
There are no paintings by Rolf Harris.
Choir of The Queen’s College of Oxford / The Brook Street Band Director: Owen Rees
IT IS strange that when one comes to leave a place one suddenly realises all the things you will probably miss the most, and most often one is chronically aware that one didn’t experience them enough or indee dappreciate them enough. Thus it is for me and music in Oxford. I know only too well that there is plenty of wonderful church music in London and that I won’t struggle to find a decent Choral Evensong, and yet somehow it won’t be the same. There will be no dashing across a Quad in a gown and no glass of sherry wine or claret in a Senior Common Room or College Bar to follow; to
grow accustomed to peering into the depths […] each of us comes to the light because of love, and each of us is called to love in order to remain in the light […] in this circular movement the light of faith illumines all our human relationships, which can then be lived in union with the gentle love of Christ.’
The light of faith isn’t given to brighten the interior of the Church but to build a hopeful world confident in the self-gift to it of God in Christ: ‘The awakening of faith is linked to the dawning of a new sacramental sense in our lives […] in which visible and material realities are seen to point beyond themselves to the mystery of the eternal.’ That awakening is an awakening into the pursuit of justice, love and truth.
I thought of our great Anglican theologian Michael Ramsey more than once as I drank in this booklet, notably in this sentence: ‘believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth that embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.’
As a booklet this is a portable albeit dense resource. It will yield most fruit when space is set aside for proper digestion since its thinking is catalytic of a recovery of basic Christian vision and you need space to ponder for that to impact. Weighty as it is I found it a welcome counter-weight to Christian writing that sits light to the transcendent. I suggest it will serve as a robust and cheerful pointer to open minded and suitably literate Christian enquirers.
MUSIC AND MONARCHY
David Starkey and Kate Greening
BBC Books, 376pp Hbk
ISBN 978-1-849-90586-2, £14.99
WATCHING THE television series that accompanies this book one could not help but be struck by the vast talent in the world of sacred music that we have in this country and yet this vast resource is appreciated by relatively few people and has as its patrons an even smaller number. This book illustrates just how the monarchy has shaped the musical life of our nation.
What struck me even more was how so much of the music relating to the life of our monarchs is tied up with the church and with faith. At the end of the book Starkey rather mournfully points out that: ‘now the sacred monarchy survives only in its music. But there, at least, it remains eternally, magnificently alive’. It is impossible to say what the music at the next coronation will be like. If it follows the pattern of recent royal events there will be music from the past which will evoke a bygone era of Empire and a small token of modern religious composing that will in many cases fall flat. There is it would seem no ‘nation’s troubadour’ to compose us another anthem like ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, written as a Coronation ode for Edward VII in 1902.
Starkey divides the history of the monarchy and music into four distinct areas. He begins under the heading ‘God and King’ by examining the development of Royal music up to the Tudor era and focussing on the Reformation. It is wonderful to think of kings composing mass settings and secular songs for the court and for the chapel. We must remember that kings like the saintly Henry VI and the less saintly Henry VIII were great patrons of the arts in general but most especially religious art.
The second section deals of the reign of James I and on through the horrors of the protectorate. It is interesting to think that whilst Cromwell’s daughter enjoyed a lavish feast (of both food and music) at her wedding the lot of musicians was not good in the Commonwealth. Many must have longed for the court of Charles I with all of its glamour and faith. They must equally have rejoiced at the return of Charles II. It is his brother James II who may have had some f the finest music composed for his coronation. Purcell’s setting of ‘I was Glad’ is the zenith of music in the period and rivals, if not exceeds, the glories of Parry.
At a time when it looks as if the United Kingdom might be torn apart it is interesting to read Starkey’s account of how music helped in the creating of that Kingdom. His section entitled ‘The Sound of Great Britain’ looks at the music at the Hanoverian court and at the great cult of Handel, a composer who moulded so much of the national musical scene. The music of Thomas Arne has been somewhat
vershadowed by the huge output of Handel but his aria ‘Rule Britannia’ is still a firm favourite (and not just amongst tweedy young men!) It is amazing to think of the number of patriotic arias and oratorios that were composed and that we simply no longer hear. The late Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries are dealt with in the section ‘Revival.’ Up until the Second World War much of the music composed was influenced by the Empire and a feeling of real Imperial zeal. The music after the Second World War, including that composed for the coronation of our current Queen, places the emphasis on Britain herself and the joy and hope for a post war nation. This is an excellent survey of the musical world of the royal court. It is a story of musical tastes and desires, of compositions and competition but most importantly it reflects the spiritual nature of monarchy and the faith of our monarchs.
Church, World and the Kingdom of God
Edited by Julie Gittoes, Brutus Green and James Heard
SCM Press, 192pp, pbk
978 0334046622, £19.99
BOOKS ARE often written to answer particular questions, and in doing so can abandon a wider and more helpful view of a topic. Generous Ecclesiology seeks to step in to what is perceived as a polarisation of the views of Mission-shaped Church on the one hand, and Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank’s defence of traditional church polity in For the Parish. The book seems to seek a middle way between two mistakes which are themselves a false polarisation of the ‘mixed economy’ church principle championed by Archbishop Rowan Williams and the authors of Mission-shaped Church. The key assumption that Mission-shaped Church was intended to be a comprehensive theology of mission rather than a follow-up report on the nature and ethos of church planting is wrong, and it is this assumption which provides the poles between which Generous Ecclesiology seeks to steer.
A classic example of this is found in Robert Thompson’s assessment of the absence of what he sees as key narratives of faith diversity in Mission-Shaped Church; lacking not, as he suggests, because of the ‘unpalatable’ nature of the theology, but because a Church of England Report inevitably leaves reams of important material on the cutting-room floor so that it is a short enough read. All this is a shame, since Thompson’s exploration of irony, paradox and institutional plurality promises much. However he stops short of suggesting just how a ‘both-and’ model of theological thinking might be properly understood in a highly complex, nuanced and diverse situation, where the threats to unity, both local and global, are so pronounced.
In running the particular course of driving the ‘mixed economy’ debate forward, the book feels a little evasive, and to readers of New Directions, Generous Ecclesiology may feel like a disappointment. There is little reference to current ecclesiological concerns with regard to the consecration of women to the episcopate and issues of human sexuality which are the current crucibles in which Anglican ecclesiology is being tested. Bishop Stephen Conway presumes a church with women bishops in his chapter entitled ‘Generous Episcopacy’, but the ‘Generosity’ of the title points more towards a vision in which the ‘mixed economy’ is fully embraced, and where the supposed poles represented by MSC and FTP (initials which the book uses freely) enter in mutual and supportive dialogue. There are exceptions to this: Bishop Jonathan Clark’s chapter entitled ‘Inclusive Catholicity’, a title which will repel as many as it attracts in our current context, attempts to rethink some of the core issues around the terminology of inclusivity in a helpful way.
A highlight for me is Jeremy Morris’ celebration of the great tradition of Anglo-Catholicism and social action, which offers both historical survey and analysis. It would have been good to have a further section on how this ecclesiological inheritance impacts upon contemporary understandings of social outreach in parishes and networks, with a far greater emphasis on collaboration and the building of networks; those which would simply not have been possible in the pre-Welfare State world of the Anglo-Catholic slum priests.
There is a lot which is of value in this book, even if it appears evasive on current and key issues. Readers will find much upon which to reflect, and much which will undoubtedly challenge. James Heard offers a helpful exploration on the core issue of contextual theology to which Ian Mobsby alludes in his afterword as: ‘the elephant in the room’. Doubtless the debate concerning how culture and context shapes mission is an important one, but I suspect that there are other elephants around of comparable size. In stepping into the space between the two perceived positions, Generous Ecclesiology, with an impressive list of contributors, is a valuable contribution to a debate which will no doubt continue to run, as the notion of ‘mixed economy’ beds in and finds a suitable and authentic place within the life of the church. It will appear to miss a trick among those who fear that threats to ecclesiological coherence come less from the edge of the church but from its very centre.
COURAGE AND CONVICTION
Piux XII, the Bridgettine Nuns,
and the Rescue of Jews.
Mother Riccarda Hambrough
and Mother Katherine Flanagan
Gracewing, 96pp, pbk
978 0852447444, £6.99
IT IS a little difficult to decide what is the principal object of this little book: to present a history of the order of Bridgettine nuns; to give brief biographies of two of them; or to rebut suggestions that have been made that the Roman Catholic Church did little or nothing to help Jews in the time of their persecution by Hitler and his Nazis and by Mussolini and his Fascists. There are also a dozen or more misprints which suggest inadequate proofreading.
If all that sounds as if I did not find much in the book upon which to comment favourably, that would be a false impression: it is most interesting and persuasive. Many references are given to show that Pope Pius XII was very plain with Ribbentrop that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was heathenish and totally unacceptable to Christians. He ordered all catholics to rescue and conceal Jews, and he released religious houses from their rules so that they could take in refugees. The author makes what seems to be a rather obvious point that when you are engaged in sheltering victims from a barbarous oppressor you are hardly going to make a public announcement about it.
The Bridgettine nuns who are the heroines of the book are an order formed in honour of the Swedish patron saint, not to be confused with the Irish St Bridget, or St Bride as she is called in Wales. Several testimonials to the kindness and care of the nuns are recorded in this book. Indeed eighty per cent of Italian Jews were saved in this way. Subsequently these people who put at risk and even surrendered their own lives were honoured by the new state of Israel.
There are also very surprising sections in this tale, such as the account of the Irish woman who shot Mussolini in the nose and instead of being summarily executed was examined, pronounced insane and sent home, to spend the rest of her life in an asylum. There is also a reference to an English eccentric who adopted a large number of boys, gave them his surname, and subjected some of them, according to some of the boys concerned, to abuse. The allegations were dismissed as false and scurrilous by other boys when they had grown up; these spoke highly and affectionately of him.
Within the lively story presented in this book what I find most wise and compelling is a concluding quotation from John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, on the dignity and vocation of women: ‘The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to [her] in a special way […] precisely by reason of her femininity […] and this entrusting expresses itself in a great number of figures of the Old Testament, of the time of Christ, and of later ages right up to our own day’.
St Augustine, translated by
Benignus O’Rourke OSA
DLT, 397pp, pbk
978 0232530339, £12.99
IN A recent interview, recorded in the Tablet, Pope Francis said: ‘Augustine wrote many books and what I think is most revealing of his intellectual and spiritual intimacy are the Confessions, which also contain some manifestations of mysticism.’
The title of this book might lead the reader to expect a lurid catalogue of misdoings and admissions of guilt. Augustine (AD 354-430) does admit to wrongdoing but this is not a dominant element. He admits to scrumping as a youngster, ambition in pursuing his career, and living with a mistress by whom he had a much loved son, Adeodatus, that is ‘God-given.’ Society regarded that as quite normal before a marriage could be arranged to someone suitable. The Confessions is an account of Augustine’s faith journey up to his baptism as a mature adult in AD 387.
After his education in North Africa Augustine taught rhetoric in Rome but when his pupils neglected to pay his fees he soon left to become Professor of Rhetoric in Milan, (AD 383). Milan was then the seat of the Imperial court. He was interested in philosophical questions and his writings are still studied in our universities today. The Confessions contain many reflections on philosophical matters such as ‘What is Beauty?’ ‘True Wisdom’, and ‘the Origin of Evil’.
For much of his early adult life Augustine belonged to the Gnostic Manichean sect, which originated in Persia in the third century and believed in a primeval conflict between Light and darkness. It encouraged extreme asceticism to release particles of light in the brain, which Satan had supposedly implanted. Augustine eventually saw that it was false and turned to current philosophical schools, especially Neo-Platonism, in his search for truth and wisdom. Bishop Ambrose of Milan and the example of eminent converts brought him to see that he had misunderstood the Christian faith.
Even so he did not immediately accept the Catholic faith until he listened to the sermons of the great bishop Ambrose who helped him to accept the Old Testament scriptures as worthy of respect. Ambrose taught that as well as the literal sense of the texts we should discern by using typology their moral and spiritual significance and so recognise that they are inspired by God. It is therefore a pity this excellent translation of St Augustine’s work excludes the last three books with his reflections on the Genesis Creation stories. They admirably demonstrate the traditional Catholic appreciation of their spiritual significance and avoid any conflict with the evolution of species. This translation also omits Book 10 with its often quoted prayer, ‘Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!’
The final step in Augustine’s conversion was his vision in the garden of a child’s voice telling him to pick up and read St Paul’s letter to the Romans, which was by him on the table. He regarded the apostle’s words as a revelation from God leading him to repent and accept baptism with Adeodatus and his friend Alypius. When he opened the book at random these are the words he read:
‘Let us live decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy. Instead put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to arouse its desires.’ (Rom. 13:13-14)
Augustine had already set aside his mistress but eventually refused his mother’s promptings to choose a bride and decided to devote his life with friends to quiet study and prayer. He soon returned to North Africa but his mother, Monica, died before he left Italy. This translation ends with Augustine’s last conversation with her and his moving tribute to her holy life. Later on God, and the congregation of the North African town of Hippo, forced him to accept the turbulent vocation of priest and bishop while still leading as far as possible a life of devotion in community.
In the last twenty years there have been several translations of the Confessions in English, notably by Henry Chadwick and Maria Boulding OSB, but O’Rourke’s has the special advantage that he avoids presenting the reader with pages filled with close print. Each of the short chapters of all the nine books begins on a new page and the text is printed in short lines like
poetry. It encourages slow reflective reading and prayerfulness.
Crispin Harrison CR
Exposition & Critique Daphne Hampson OUP, 368pp, hbk 978 0199673230, £25
SOME PHILOSOPHERS one reads for their ideas, their language and style being merely a means to an end, and all too often it seems a rather poor means to that end. Immanuel Kant is without doubt a most important philosopher and his ideas need to be assimilated if one wishes to grasp the cultural context of modern Europe, but his writing is by no means easy. Heavy, dense, laboured, his writing adds nothing to the ideas. As for the dreaded Hegel, his writing is so awful one can reasonably doubt whether the content is worth the candle.
In other philosopher’s writings, the style is everything. There is a direct engagement with the thinker himself; a face to face dialogue that unfolds the ideas and transfers them, as it were, to our own minds, through the words themselves. You need to read the actual texts, not pick them up secondhand. This is always difficult, because summaries and introductions are all but impossible, and there is some real work to be done, before any reward is guaranteed.
Kierkegaard, born two hundred years ago this year, falls squarely into this second camp. Now, I confess, I have long dismissed him because of his starring role as the theological interpreter
of existentialism, which mishmash of philosophical nonsense deeply beguiled me in my liberal youth. Even with the excuse of adolescent excess, it is a part of my past of which I am not a little ashamed.
Why poor Kierkegaard was tainted by that nonsense a century after his death I have no idea, but he deserves a proper commentator to bring out the value and seriousness of what he actually had to say.
Writing in his native Denmark in and around the 1840s, there is much to discourage us: he was not uninfluenced by the Romantics; his writing style is imaginative, beguiling and eccentric, and his analysis deeply autobiographical. None of these, however, should put us off, for they are not in any way central to what he has to say, but emerge only because of the difficulty of dealing with genuinely difficult ideas.
I couldn’t help thinking, when reading this book, how someone like Richard Dawkins would never in a hundred years have the subtle intelligence to understand him.
Hampson has studied and taught Kierkegaard throughout a long academic career, and this introduction to his thinking is the result of decades of reflection. She speaks with authority, and it is this that carries one through some of the more demanding expositions; her summary of contemporary culture at the beginning, for example, has an admirable facility that can only come from years of close acquaintance.
For me, her biggest achievement is the manner in which she anchors Kierkegaard in the past. He is not a crypto-modern, but a man of his age, and of a culture almost alien to our own, but in his thinking he is drawing on problems that emerged in a still earlier cultural milieu. As such he acts as a bridge for us, helping us to understand the broader context of our own theology. The way Hampson describes it is complex, that’s for sure, but it is far from dull.
The key issue is how to describe faith in God within the constraints of an alien philosophy; how to justify Christianity in a post-Enlightenment world. This Kierkegaard tackled with an unrivalled commitment and imagination, without resorting to escapism, like the Romantics, denial, like the later Existentialists, or, the most common option, by means of defensive negativism like the Liberals. If his ideas are complex, that is because he does not take the easy option nor simplify the problems. No mean feat.
Truly, we owe him a lot, and I apologize for my earlier disdain, and we owe Professor Hampson a genuine debt of gratitude for a most thorough exposition of a key Christian thinker. She sets his work in context; she outlines its development in relation to his biography; she re-establishes his Lutheran roots, usually overlooked; she sets his ideas both in the context of his own day and of our own: an admirable work of scholarship.
Whether it can be read by the beginner in Kierkegaard’s thought, as the back cover asserts, I don’t know, but that it will help and stimulate those who already know him is certain.
John Turnbull ND