DIALOGUE WITH NATURE
from Britain and Germany
Admission £6, concessions available
Both until 27 April
ON THE surface, literally speaking, these two small exhibitions could not be more different. The thick impasto paint and blaze of colour from Van Gogh summons large crowds to the National Gallery. At the Courtauld the pale watercolours of the early nineteenth century are visited by the elderly and by schoolchildren who have gone to the wrong room.
Yet there is a continuum between the two. Van Gogh is the epitome of the romantic artist, an unappreciated genius whose works are now worth millions. The artists at the Courtauld actually were Romantics though, Turner aside, their works are not so pricey as Van Gogh’s.
More importantly these are all professional artists. The Courtauld doesn’t draw this out but it is the professional military artist who breaks the link between the studio and landscape. Paul Sandby is the first of the plein air painters on show – Windsor Green, 1762, which is some time before Romanticism takes off – and he was originally a military topographer, an artist who was paid to portray the land accurately. A similar and scientific precision comes with the sketches of clouds by Constable and von Dillis. Von Dillis especially shows a wonderful freshness, a break from the stylization of the old academies, though his own stylizations were in due course to become hackneyed. For both men, scientific observation of clouds was a springboard for the artist.
Van Gogh was equally passionate about seeing light and colour and shape and painting it. And so the two shows are linked by the way different artists’ close observation of the world is transformed into pictures.
The Courtauld show highlights two artistic preoccupations, that of Romantic sensibility and that of the painter’s perceptions. The sensibility is that of the sublime – the sense of man’s smallness before the vastness of nature and the passing of time which shatters and breaks even the strongest.
The archetypal artist of this sublime is Caspar David Friedrich, a man said to have inspired Samuel Beckett, though the Courtauld wisely does not mention this. Oddly the only classic Friedrich-style lone figure in a vast landscape, back turned towards us, drawing in the viewer, is by Robert Streatfeild, a man who also did pictures of jolly tars and naval rigging. But there is a small, classic Friedrich landscape made without the classical framing so as to create a sense of unlimited space, and another of a typically Romantic conceit, the church at Greifswald, pictured as if it were a ruin even though it was actually in good working order when Friedrich drew it.
If people don’t feature very much in J.M.W. Turner’s pictures, that was not due to proto-existentialist angst but a technical weakness in figure painting. His works at the Courtauld represent the emphasis onpainterlyperception, an inward turn which was another aspect of Romanticism. A famous outdoors sketcher, he left Nature no more as it is than did Capability Brown. His Alps loomed vaster, his storms were wetter, his light more diffuse than the real thing. Like Van Gogh he was creating a new set of artistic conventions, though he did so with spectacular commercial success. His Lake Lucerne picture of 1841 is the highlight of the show. It is as artificial as a Claude but with brilliant technique creates and answers a different susceptibility towards nature. This work is as subtle and impassioned as the Sunflowers down the road.
Turner died in the house of his mistress in fashionable Chelsea, not quite what the public wants from an artist. His alleged last words were ‘The sun is God,’ and that Van Gogh would have understood. And Turner’s hard work and the joy it gave him. The National Gallery is showing two of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, the one a copy of the other with small variations. They are mature works, made at a time when despite bouts of ill health Van Gogh was painting at a phenomenal rate. The Dutch copy of the National’s original is slightly more stylized: the colours of the flowers are more artificial, they contrast with a deeper gold in the background. Though it is hard not to look at the pictures without making comparisons – they are hung next to each other – perhaps the most interesting exercise is to see what happens when Van Gogh changes something between the original and the copy – whether deliberately or because of the copying process. It is part of the skill of the painter to hold together what happens across the whole surface so that a different colour here requires a different colour there. With that in mind, a careful viewing of the two pictures makes this show a concentrated exercise in understanding Van Gogh’s aesthetic.
But you could, of course, just ask yourself which you would rather have above the mantelpiece.
PARISH MASS IN E
A Setting for Congregation and Organ
with Optional SATB Choir
Melody edition: £1
Full music: £4
tel. 0754 9108 518
IN JANUARY 2014 the priest who chairs the Diocese of Brentwood’s Liturgy Commission wrote to The Tablet (read by all self-respecting liberal Anglicans during my time as a theological student) arguing that it is legitimate to use the previous Missal, since the new translation was ‘conceived in error’ and many priests are only able to use it by omitting tricky words like ‘dewfall’, ‘oblation’ and ‘consubstantial’. NEW DIRECTIONS wishes him well in his new ministry as the parish priest of Craggy Island.
It is a truism to say that the new English translation of the Roman Missal divides opinion. My personal view is that overall the new translation is a masterpiece. And yet there are a very few serious practical problems with it. These revolve not around ‘difficult’ words like ‘oblation’ or ‘consubstantial’, the supposed objections to which could be resolved with a minimal amount of teaching and understanding of the Church’s past, but rather around certain phrases and paragraphs which simply do not work particularly well in English.
Foremost among these is the translation of the Gloria, which however you look at it comes across as wordy and even pedantic. And this in turn explains why there has yet to emerge a congregational Mass setting which is capable of capturing the imagination and becoming the new standard for Roman Rite parishes (Anglican and otherwise). Many old Mass settings have been reset to the new words, and all flounder at the Gloria. A prime example of this is Dom Gregory Murray’s (in)famous setting, the banality of which was tempered in its original form by the undeniable fact that lots of people knew it and enjoyed singing it. The attempt to revise the setting to fit the new words of the Gloria fails on every level, resulting in a banal setting which nobody can sing.
The same is true of newly composed congregational settings, which explains the success in some quarters of revised versions of Merbecke – perhaps a worthy expression of what was for a time known as the reform of the reform?
And so it is pleasing to say that Michael Overbury’s new Parish Mass in E largely overcomes this trap. The Gloria avoids getting stodgy by means of a bass line which drives the melody forwards, and limited use of syncopation proves interesting rather than irritating. Crucially, in terms of the concept of a Mass setting as a suite of sacred music rather than merely a collection of nice tunes, the Gloria sets the tone for what is to follow. The Sanctus and Benedictus is more reflective than the Gloria but develops some of its themes. TwoAcclamations of Faith are provided, the first of which (‘Save us, Saviour of the world’) very deliberately echoes the Gloria, whilst the second (‘We _____________ proclaim your death, O Lord’) begins in B minor and ends by reflecting the Gloria in D major, the modulation suitably reflecting the changing mood of the text.
However, the highlight of this Mass setting is the Agnus Dei. It is eerily reminiscent (deliberately so, one wonders?) of the beautiful Agnus from Darke in F, and yet goes to new and exciting places – especially in the middle stanza – before reminding us once again of the Gloria at the very end.
Overbury’s Parish Mass in E has been in regular use at Worksop Priory for some time now, and one hopes that this publication will facilitate its more widespread use. A good SATB choir would add colour to the setting, and a competent organist is essential if it is to work properly as liturgical music. But this is a fine congregational setting, which in the right circumstances will add dignity and beauty to parish worship. A worthy oblation indeed.
THE POPE AND MUSSOLINI
The Secret History of Pius XI
and the Rise of Fascism in Europe
David I. Kertzer
OUP, 592pp, hbk
978 0198716167, £20
ON 28 October 1935 the Archbishop of Milan, Ildefonso, Cardinal Schuster, sang High Mass and delivered a ‘stirring homily’ in thanksgiving for the Fascist March on Rome thirteen years earlier, which brought Mussolini to power. ‘He lacked only a black shirt, as for the rest he was closely in tune with
the party line as the most diligent party member’, commented Cesare De Vecchi, the Italian Ambassador to the Holy See.
This book, firmly rooted in archival research, is a corrective to the commonly held narrative that the Vatican opposed the dictatorship for depriving people of their civil rights, through Catholic Action opposed the regime, denounced the harsh treatment of the Jews. Rather, Professor Kertzer argues, that the ‘Vatican played a central role both in making the Fascist regime possible and in keeping it in power’.
Once he gained power the rabidly anti-clerical Mussolini changed tack. He remained uncomfortable in the presence of priests but concluded that an accommodation with the Prisoner in the Vatican and the recognition of the Catholic religion within the state would provide a basis for stability and largely neutralize a source of opposition. The Lateran Accords were the outcome of two powerful forces accepting that both could prosper better with collaboration rather than antagonism.
Pope Pius XI (Achille Ratti) was a scholar. He had been Librarian in the Ambrosian Library. As Pope he exhibited similar despotic traits to Mussolini. His high view of his divine office led him to eat his meals alone and to refuse to be photographed other than alone. He maintained a tight grip on the affairs of the Church from the great issues of the day to the minutiae of administration.
The Pope and the Vatican drew a sharp distinction between the Fascism of Italy, which was a nationalism that sought to uphold Catholicism, and the Fascism of Germany which sought to impose a paganism that was inimical to the teachings of the Christ. The Pope’s attitude changed when Mussolini grew increasingly close to Hitler and began the implementation of racial and anti-Jewish policies. Even then, public criticism was oblique. Mussolini defended his policy, in part, by quoting the policies of the Church towards Jews for centuries and which were given contemporary expression in official Vatican publications. The trusted go-between Fr Pietro Tacchi Venturi sj who ferried message from Pope to Mussolini and back was a notable anti-Semite. Several others emerge from the shadows into the unrelenting light of day and rarely to their credit: Fr Ledochowski, the Jesuit Superior-General, Msg Caccia Dominioni, Papal MC and suspected pederast (like Venturi), Msg Borgongini-Duca, Nuncio to Italy. We knew the Fascists were a ghastly crew but there are no heroes in the Vatican either.
Sympathy, often outright support and encouragement, for the Fascist cause in Italy permeated every level of the Vatican bureaucracy. And it was only slightly less so for Germany. Cardinal Pacelli, the Secretary of State from 1930, had been the Papal Nuncio in Berlin and evinced a continued sympathy in his new office. Much of his work was to ameliorate the language used by the Pope in private about the governments of both Italy and Germany, or to rein in some of the Pope’s more unguarded public comments.
The great encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge (With burning concern) of 1937 condemned breaches of the concordat between the German Reich and the Holy See, criticized the elevation of one race above another, condemned the myth of blood and race and pantheism, and contained veiled criticisms of Hitler but, as Kertzer points out, it did not contain explicit condemnation of or references to National Socialism, the Nazi Party or Hitler. He suggests that its reputation as a ringing condemnation of Nazism is over-rated. However, the ferocious reaction it provoked from the Nazi regime may have inhibited Pius XII (Pacelli) and explain some of his reluctance to condemn Nazi treatment of Jews and ethnic victims a few years later. The description elsewhere of Pius XII as ‘Hitler’s Pope’ is not approved by Kertzer but Cardinal Pacelli does not emerge from the pages of this book with much credit. His temporizing, diplomatic caution and reluctance to condemn blatant abuse and breaches of protocols begins to look craven.
Kertzer presents the evidence of collusion, of what went on behind the public pronouncements and courtesies, dispassionately, with copious quotation from the source material in the Vatican Archives and the Italian State Archives. It is supported in extensive, detailed footnotes: an exemplary display of the way footnotes underpin an argument and, by expanding on tangential material, substantially enhance the main text.
Pope Pius XI as he grew older, grew bolder, less constrained and, as his health faded, was preparing a comprehensive condemnation of the Fascist State. He completed his text without reference to the bureaucracy, had it secretly typed and printed ready for distribution to the bishops who had gathered in Rome to mark the tenth anniversary of the Lateran Accords. It was a race against time and Pius XI lost. Scarcely had the weeping Pacelli tapped the Pope three times on the head with a silver hammer, pronounced him dead, removed the Fisherman’s ring from his finger, than the written notes and printed copies of the speech were removed from the Papal Apartments and never saw the light of day.
The Anglophone reader needs to be patient of Americanisms (‘gotten’). The liturgically correct need to endure cassocks being referred to as ‘clerical gowns’ and that the Pope appeared on the balcony after his election and before his coronation wearing a glittering tiara, and that the ‘sacrifice of Abraham’ is part of the priestly blessing at Mass. I may be a lone voice but I continue to protest the promiscuous use of the split infinitive.
FAITH AND UNBELIEF
Stephen Bullivant Canterbury Press Norwich,
160pp, pbk 978 1848252806, £12.99
THIS IS a large and tantalizing subject littered with booby-traps that confound the unwary and come to seem unanswerable even to those quite confident that they are safely orthodox in their beliefs. The author – a professional academic theologian – does well, therefore, to bring the whole matter into a systematically organized dissertation. It is not an exercise in Christian apologetics but an essay aimed at communicating with the general run of readers capable of following sustained thought in language that mainly avoids jargon. Here it is the thinking that is demanding, not the writing (though occasionally a dictionary may be useful). Unavoidable technical terms are generally explained, for example, ‘theodicy’, the justice of God, a term for the branch of theology that considers what gives many quite ordinary people much anxiety, not only declared atheists but those who have to endure troubles that certainly do not seem to support the idea of a just, merciful and loving Creator.
That is one of the most frequently pointed out stumbling blocks, or to use Paul’s favoured word, ‘scandals’. How can a loving, or even ‘just’ God be justified in some of the dreadful sufferings that he inflicts upon the innocent? The early Christians could perhaps hardly avoid being regarded as insanely corrupt in such practices as wearing around their necks the revolting image of a cross with a little, tortured corpse on it. No wonder it was thought that it was the Christians who were degraded atheists!
As for baptism, confession and communion, a God that loved and desired to save the whole world was surely unreasonably inconsistent in stipulating that these and other tests were necessary to salvation and yet granting it to (or withholding it from) saintly people who must surely be ‘inculpably ignorant’ because they had lived before the time of Jesus: people such as Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and many others. We know that Moses and Elias appeared with Jesus in the Transfiguration; and Jesus himself tells us that the Queen of Sheba will be present executing judgement at the last time.
It used to be thought that everyone in the world had by now heard, or had access to, the Gospel, but have they been taught it convincingly, or perhaps in a way that turned them against it? Many of these of course cannot believe, yet are reasonable, kind and loving. Is it their fault or our weak or aggressive evangelizing that might be to blame? And even some of the most challenging and determined atheists were brought up in churches, good schools, and pious, cheerful homes. Sometimes they make what appears to be a good case, but the God they do not believe in is the same as the god that very great theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas do not believe in either.
And then there is the very vexed question of forgiveness. Yes, we accept that this is a Christian duty and one that we should be delighted to perform. But surely some things are too wicked to be forgiven? Yet God is the judge of the whole world, and is he not to be permitted to judge, without our presuming to direct him? Furthermore how often do we think that the favourite objects of our hatred need not be given this grace? Are they not our neighbours too, even if they are not just people with whom we fail to get along or, worse still, guilty of the most heinous mass crimes? On the other hand we are liable to fall into the opposite fault (if that is what it is) of proposing the doctrine of universalism. Some say that all are forgiven except those that are too stubborn to accept God’s loving kindness – and even they experience a momentary regret as they pass, self-condemned, into the ‘outer darkness’ (where they find that God is there too, being present everywhere).
Towards the end of his book, Bullivant attempts and recommends dialogue between Christians and atheists, engaged in seriously and candidly by both ‘sides’. Thus we might learn truths about how we and they perceive the arguments that are presented. Learning more about ourselves might shock but enlighten us – and them. Who knows, but we might move a little in the direction of Jesus’ prayer in St John ‘that they all may be one’. That is, provided that the exchanges are frank and completely honest. Perhaps we will be brought towards a ‘New Evangelization’. I am hugely relieved to find that the treatment in the book of this final matter is eminently reassuring.
REJOICE, DEAR ZION
Hebrew Construct Phrases with
‘Daughter’ and ‘Virgin’ as Nomen Regens
De Gruyter, 200pp, hbk
978 3110308945, €80
I AM not unbiased. I was privileged to give the Assumptiontide Lecture at Walsingham some years ago. My theme was Mary, the Virgin Daughter of Zion. Clearly, this Old Testament figure is a person to whom I am deeply devoted, a figure of immense importance in our understanding of the unfolding mystery of the Incarnation. Why was Mary a virgin? Because, in her person, she fulfilled the promise of the Old Testament. And so on. I must not bore you with my own ideas.
The academic literature on the subject in recent years has focused on two things: the misplaced genitive, meaning that the phrase should really be ‘Daughter Zion’ not ‘Daughter of Zion’ – a difference that is far less significant than many scholars suggest; and a sort of Lilleth-inspired fantasy literature about a mythico-religious Near-Eastern crypto-feminist figure – yawn. Against that background, this serious and careful work is most welcome.
Kartveit’s great merit, ironically, is that he is a man with not an ounce of imagination. This solid, scholarly investigation of all the relevant phrases in the Old Testament is entirely free of either feminist fantasy or traditional Christian theology, which makes his linguistic analysis dull but trustworthy. I say ‘all’, but strangely there is one possible origin he almost completely ignores, perhaps because it was influential before he was born.
The phrase ‘and her daughters’ with a place name (Num. 21.25; Jos. 15.45) referred to surrounding villages and settlements that had grown up around a fortified town (to which the inhabitants would retreat in time of conflict). ‘Daughter of Zion’ may, on this understanding, have originally referred to the shanty town of northern refugees, after the fall of Samaria, which developed to the west of the walled city of David. This was incorporated within new walls under Manasseh, and came to signify the whole of the enlarged city, when considered from the perspective of the ordinary people, as opposed to the ruling elite. I have always warmed to this idea, but it is not acknowledged here, not even to be refuted.
Instead, we have the various goddess options, where the female city is married to the male patron god. These are fully described and quietly laid to one side. One other albeit unlikely possibility, that I rather liked, was that the phrase ‘Daughter Zion’ was originally a soldiers’ insult. Instead of a strong, male, fortified town, this weak, ill-defended, unmartial collection of buildings is given a pejorative female title. ‘Girlie Zion’ may better capture the implied sneer. There is an ironic quality here that is attractive, for to be despised by the world is especially appropriate for those loved by God.
His own bias is towards an adjectival usage, of approval. The personification is not into an actual person (even figurative) but rather as an added emphasis of love and affection. As he concludes, ‘The translations “dear Zion,” “beloved Zion,” “poor Zion,” “dear Jerusalem,” “my dear people,” “my poor people” and others, as the context may suggest to the translators, convey an emotional element that is missed in the traditional translation “daughter of Zion” or the contemporary “daughter Zion or “Daughter Zion.” The phrases are not descriptive, but full of feeling, love and reproach, but always compassion.’
How weirdly modern to think of a person as somehow non-personal. He does, of course, nowhere mention the Blessed Virgin. Whether from atheist or protestant sensibilities, I know not. But it is not the rather weak conclusion that is the strength of this book, but the careful and thorough treatment of the whole range of Daughter Zion phrases and usage. He does not prove any hypothesis, but he offers a huge amount of most valuable insight. He gives new life to a mysterious Old Testament figure, who prefigured the Mother of Our Lord.
A final note. Kartveit’s English is excellent – for a Norwegian. I found it, however, strangely disconcerting. In his thanks at the beginning, he does not mention anyone who helped him with the English, presumably because no one did. It is accurate, technical, American, yet also punctuated by strange turns of phrase and unexpected word order. It is as though neither writer nor reader has an ear for English as a spoken language.
Is this the price of its becoming a world language?
TEN AFRICAN CARDINALS
Gracewing, 376pp, pbk
978 0852448342, £15.99
AFRICA HAS a bad reputation: it is desperately poor, corrupt, violent and unstable. It has bad governments, mostly by dictators who make themselves obscenely rich at the expense of the poor. This is all true. Yet Africa is also a wonderfully exciting place to be. It is full of societies that are growing, changing, developing. The Church has played a huge part in this since it is the Church, of many denominations, that has provided most of the health care and education which has so changed the face of Africa. In the midst of the violence and chaos there are great numbers of people, many of them priests and bishops who are extremely well educated, wise, compassionate and working for the good of their countries as well as for the Kingdom of God. Sally Ninham interviews ten of these people and the interviews are given, more or less verbatim, in this book.
The interview style is not one I like very much as it is rather verbose, but that makes for easy reading. There are some spelling mistakes where the typist has recorded names phonetically rather than checked properly. Despite that the book gives us a much more nuanced picture of what is happening in Africa today than the one we get through the media. It is of course a very mixed picture where really important work of education, social change, economic empowerment takes place against a background of continuing chaos and corruption. Africa is exciting, colourful, vibrant and enormous fun, yet there is massive injustice, and violence against women, children, minorities, Christians and poor people generally. The cardinals know this and try in varying degrees to do something about it. The cardinals turn out to be mostly very attractive men, of great ability. Most have lived close to the violence and instability of Africa; some like Cardinal Dos Santos of Mozambique played key roles in bringing peace to their countries. Some evidently enjoy their princely roles, perhaps a little too much. Others are obviously not impressed with their own grandeur and keep their feet firmly on the soil of the land where their lives began.
The book ends with some interviews by Gerald O’Connell which are much better focused as he knows more about the Church and can ask the right questions.
One thing the book should teach us is to be constantly aware of the media tendency to use slogans. Issues like AIDS, contraception, homosexuality, democracy, corruption, violence and the Muslim/Christian divide are all hugely complicated questions that involve people living in very different circumstances from our own. We in the West want to make Africa just like the West and tend to list issues such as those above as a check list. On the whole the cardinals, like the people they serve, avoid being pigeonholed and make us return to the questions of Africa with a new desire to see what is actually happening and look for answers that fit Africa’s very different situation.
Nicolas Stebbing cr
Reflections from the Early Church on the Sunday Gospels: Years A, B & C Stephen Holmes Canterbury Press Norwich, 288pp, hbk 978 1848252103, £30
WHAT A joy to be able to report that this is a splendid book in every sense – immaculately presented, well edited and introduced, and full of good juicy material which will enhance the understanding of Scripture of all who read it, and the preaching and teaching of those called to these particular ministries. As Stephen Holmes puts it in his lucid and informative introduction, ‘the passages in Celebrating Sundays help us read the Gospels within [a] Spirit-filled stream of sacred tradition’. The introduction also contains an interesting history of the Revised Common Lectionary, and how it came to be used by the vast majority of what he calls ‘most of the world’s Christian Churches’, though of course the Orthodox and a wide array of non-liturgical protestant sects may beg to differ. Nonetheless, the point which will be of interest to readers of NEW DIRECTIONS is that this book can be used by those who follow the Roman Lectionary, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the RCL as modified by the Church of England, which Holmes refers to as the Common Worship Lectionary. Celebrating Sundays is in some ways a sequel to Celebrating the Seasons and Celebrating the Saints but differs from those earlier anthologies in that this specifically contains commentaries from the early Church on the Sunday Gospel readings.
In fact, about 15 per cent of the readings are from periods later than the Patristic, though John Henry Newman is the only modern writer. Bernard of Clairvaux and Guerric of Igny are other examples of post-Patristic writers. The most used Fathers are St Augustine from the West and Ss John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria from the East, who between them contribute almost half the commentaries.
Most of this information is contained in the introduction, which as I have already said is useful and interesting on a number of levels. The book also comes equipped with a contents page and table of readings (arranged by the liturgical year); an introduction to each part of the year; a short biography of each of the writers; suggestions for further reading, and a comprehensive index of authors.
All in all, this handsome book has just about all that its potential readers could want, with one tiny exception. The provision of ribbons would have aided the use of this book either liturgically (for example as an additional reading similar to those provided by the Breviary’s Office of Readings) or by those who on a weekly basis will sit down privately and read the relevant passage from it. For this is not a book to be read in one sitting, but one to be delved into throughout the year. Used accordingly, it will provide a rich seam of Patristic theology, and so shine new light both on the Gospel passages themselves, and on the Fathers of the Church who did so much to shape the way the Tradition has received them. There is something here for everybody who takes seriously the Christian commitment to lifelong learning as a crucial part of discipleship.
Luke Briers ND