GIOVANNI BATTISTA MORONI
25 October 2014–25 January 2015
Admission £12, concessions available
This is the first large-scale exhibition of the work of Moroni outside of Italy. The majority of the works come from Bergamo, though there are a sprinkling from the Uffizi and three of his most important works are from the National Gallery. The distribution of the paintings reflects his fame during his lifetime and the connoisseurship of the British Empire.
Moroni was one of the leading Lombard painters from the beginning of his maturity in 1550 until his death in c. 1580. He was a contemporary of Titian, and the comparison between the two of them is largely in Titian’s favour. Moroni is not as various. His religious paintings are often ludicrous – one of the Holy Trinity has a ghostly pale Father with sleeves rolled up as if He were to lift the Son up out of the bath. For most of his career Moroni’s backgrounds were weak. When they are landscapes they are uninspired, and when architectural ruins they are formulaic. And then his people are often composite pictures of faces meticulously rendered from the life (for which Moroni was famous) and clothes precisely described but hung on dummies in the studio to be painted. Once you have spotted this it becomes very disconcerting. Could Moroni have competed with Titian when it came to the female nude? – you have to doubt he had the technique or patrons sufficiently powerful to get away with pictures of sexy girls painted at the height of Counter-Reformation Puritanism.
Then there is the application of the paint. It is smooth with no hint of brushwork. This is all very much of its age and excellently done of its sort but ultimately bland and something Titian moved on from. I saw the show at the same time as the Academy was showing Anselm Kiefer and it would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast between Kiefer’s artsy struggle with German history and German myth and German eroticism plastered on with thick impasto and plants stuck into the paintings and Moroni’s beautiful fabrics and carefully recorded expressions of aristocratic sitters.
Yet, put Moroni beside an older German, Hans Holbein the Younger, and there are many similarities. Both share the capacity to bring characters to life, though Holbein’s sitters were even more dangerous than the feuding Montague/Capulet type aristocrats Moroni painted. Also, both painters were able to paint their patrons warts and all, and though Moroni had a very limited range of half turn, bust or half length poses and he lacked Holbein’s grasp of perspective, by the end of his life he had made an historic breakthrough when with the late Portrait of a Tailor he began to paint the full range of the social classes, not just the nobility.
Actually the Portrait of a Tailor is his only painting of an artisan (well, it’s the only one I can find). And of course he is a well-dressed and successful-looking tailor. But he is not like the earlier aristocrats posing with their swords and poetry. For once it looks as though the head and body are of the same person. The stance is original – a charming slight diffidence, previously captured in the wonky smile of a Lateran Canon. As always, the fashions of dress and beard are closely observed. Unusually there is none of the very strong character which comes out in some of the other portraits. The Tailor is reserved as befits a tradesman dealing with a client.
The nearest equivalent in the rest of Moroni’s output is his best early works. These are of religious, usually well-off religious, but religious nonetheless. In these works the simple background of the sitters’ lives is reflected in the painted backgrounds which are equally simple and anticipate Moroni’s final solution to the problem of how to paint backgrounds.
By contrast, Moroni’s middle period is dominated by local aristocrats and the extraordinarily gorgeous green and pinks of the ladies’ costumes. These are very bright, designed for the strong Italian sunshine. Some of the details are fantastic, notably a feather fan the colour of marshmallows which contrasts horribly with the dark green and gold dress behind it. But however beautifully these people are dressed, their characters are far from pretty. Wariness, arrogance, a short fuse are all very obvious.
The middle period is let down by the indifferent backgrounds. Late Moroni has plain backgrounds which may have been brought on by a change to plainer fashions and the paintings are the better for it. Moroni still had the courage to paint what he saw; the strong, harsh character of the Portrait of a Lady in Black, the weary, twinkly look of the politician Giovanni Gerolamo Albani or the cheery Antonio Navagero, cheery despite sitting on one of Moroni’s poorly constructed chairs. In the presence of these notables the Tailor was wise to keep his thoughts to himself.
DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME
The Eucharist from the Early Church to the Present Day
Bryan D. Spinks
SCM Press, 512pp, pbk
978 0334043768, £60
Bryan Spinks is probably the most eminent historian of liturgy writing today. Having begun his liturgical studies as an undergraduate at the University of Durham with Arthur Couratin, he has gone on to write seminal works on the shape of Eucharistic prayers, the history of English Eucharistic theology, early Eucharistic texts such as the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, the history and theology of baptism, the challenges of bringing liturgy and contemporary culture together in fruitful encounter, and much more besides. In Do This in Remembrance of Me, he brings together the fruits of forty years of liturgical study, and offers a history of the Eucharist which will surely become the definitive text for a generation. If the price of the volume puts it beyond the reach of many individuals, then it will at least be a must-have volume for the libraries of universities and theological colleges.
The sheer scope and comprehensiveness of Do This in Remembrance of Me makes it a difficult book to review with any authority. There are few people – Spinks aside – who have the necessary breadth and depth of knowledge required. The book is arranged broadly chronologically, and ranges from the first days of the Christian Church, through the early centuries of emerging and unfolding rites to the Classical rites of Western Christendom, and then into the myriad rites and theologies which were spawned by the Reformation and the ecumenical scene in the twentieth century. Alongside all of this the Orthodox tradition is not forgotten.
Spinks dedicates a chapter to the Anglican tradition (from Cranmer to the Tractarians), and part of his conclusion to this chapter sums up both the breadth of knowledge and the attractively readable style which Spinks offers the reader: ‘The history of Anglicanism until the last decades of the twentieth century is a history of extremely varied theologies of the Eucharist, all kept together and affirmed, or marginalized and ignored, or totally contradicted by a strange adherence to the Cranmerian text [of the Book of Common Prayer]. That text began life as a Protestant reform of the Sarum Use of the Romano-Western synthesis, with insights from Lutheran sources’. If the history of the liturgy of two provinces of the Western Church can be so complicated, then that gives an idea of the challenge facing any would-be surveyor of the history of the Eucharist in totality. It is a challenge to which – in so far as I am qualified to say – Spinks rises admirably.
Let me conclude with some words from the Preface – words which will both engage and amuse past generations of theological students. It gives a flavour of the lightness of touch with which Spinks approaches this weightiest of subjects. ‘For someone from the English-speaking and/or Anglican perspective, any book on Eucharistic liturgy is already totally overshadowed by Dom Gregory Dix’s now classic The Shape of the Liturgy. A classic it is, similar to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Both contain brilliant ideas, and both contain much information which is now so hopelessly out of date as to be quite dangerous, but each is a classic and thus in many ways can never be replaced.’ Elsewhere, Spinks acknowledges the fact that ‘most scholarly views have a limited shelf-life!’ Do This in Remembrance of Me is destined to become a classic in its own rite (pardon the pun!), with a longer shelf-life than most.
EXPLORING CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
SPCK, 320pp, pbk
Tony Lane’s introduction to Christian doctrine is without doubt an excellent teaching tool. However, nobody should be in any doubt concerning what exactly it is teaching. It presents a very Protestant understanding of the Gospel and a very Evangelical way of going about the task of theological reflection in the light of that. Catholics will not be able to use his book uncritically.
In many ways, Lane is to be congratulated on the book he has produced. It fills very neatly a gap in the market. It is a very extensive introduction to the basics of Christian doctrine which is approachable, well laid out, and easy to understand. Lane wisely exploits diagrams and cartoons to make his text clearer and obviously brings to the task of publishing his text much experience of teaching and pedagogy. Lane also manages to draw on a wide range of thinkers, writers, and theologians to give the student a good initial knowledge of the breadth and complexity of many of the arguments and questions which he examines.
It could work well as a textbook for a parish study group for people who, already having been catechised in the basics, wanted to learn more about the faith. It could also be a useful basis for teaching for those whose responsibility it is to teach the early stages of the formation of those preparing for ordination or a ministry of preaching.
However, despite the eirenic tone Lane takes, and despite the many ways in which he genuinely attempts to include more Catholic and patristic perspectives, it is difficult to image using this resource satisfactorily in a Catholic context.
Lane’s teaching exemplifies incredibly clearly some of the most glaring inconsistencies, problems and blind spots which exist within the different strands of Protestant theology.
One problem revolves around a number of pretty predictable areas of doctrine such as the Church, Our Lady and the sacraments. Lane shows little awareness of how isolated from the main streams of the Christian tradition many reformed and Evangelical perspectives on these issues are. There is, in fact, a main stream, majority Christian view on many of those areas both through history, and in Christendom at the present time. Not to hold those opinions is to belong to a minority among Christians, and frequently involves allegiance to ideas which have only been around for less than a quarter of Christian history. The oddness, novelty, and lack of scriptural and patristic precedent for many Protestant approaches to these issues is rarely acknowledged by Lane.
A second problem, however, is the naivety and over-simplicity of many Protestant approaches to the Bible. The Bible is presented by Lane as speaking unequivocally on certain issues which are palatable to the evangelical mind, such as the impossibility of Our Lady’s Assumption and Immaculate Conception. Yet at other times, when it is convenient for the same Protestant psyche, the Bible permits a range of opinions and interpretations, such as how we are to understand the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.
A third problem is way in which this textbook spends large amounts of time examining doctrinal questions only Protestants tend to get worked up about. This was particularly evident in the sections concerning salvation and knowledge of God. My experience of working in Anglican Catholic parishes is that one tends not to encounter the endless agonizing over justification, ultimate perseverance, or Arminian disputes concerning prevenient grace, that Lane gives the impression are a crucial part of theological reflection.
One is moved after reading this book to the observation that it embodies and presents remarkably clearly many of the key problems that lie at the heart of Evangelical and reformed approaches to the task of theological reflection. Reading Lane’s work might count, nonetheless, as a useful exercise. It shows just how different the conclusions are that Christians can come to when drawing on different parts of the tradition, when reading their preferred sections of the Scriptures, and when their guiding theological principles are rooted in different periods of Christian history and experience.
THE EVIDENCE FOR GOD
The Case for the Existence of the Spiritual Dimension
DLT, 160pp, pbk
978 0232531305, £9.99
You can hold reasonable faith without its being beyond doubt. Putting it another way, Richard Dawkins’ lack of belief is also not beyond doubt, though he might not like it put that way! Where Dawkins and others lose ground morally is in their failure to do exactly what Keith Ward has done in his new book and look beyond linear arguments regarding God to a comprehensive evaluation under the heading of ‘dialectical reason’.
The Evidence for God is made up of such reasonable dialogues with experts and interested parties in six realms of life that point to the existence of a spiritual dimension which may be a pointer to God. The book has a philosophical bent, and as such it is not too easy a read, but it is powerful in its cumulative line of thought that tours the arts, morality, philosophy, science, religion and personal experience.
‘The evidence of footsteps in the snow does not immediately lead you to a murderer, but it may be part of a cumulative body of evidence which can lead you to the identification of a murderer.’ Belief in God is a similar puzzle resting on both reason and intuition as they interpret the riches and traumas of life to establish a clear pattern. Ward sees and addresses the need for beliefs to be consistent, empathetic and critical, that is, linked to the beliefs of others in both senses, morally fruitful and comprehensive.
On comprehensiveness the author writes: ‘We should be aware of the historical context of our beliefs, aim at as wide-ranging and comprehensive a range of understanding as possible, and recognise that our own beliefs will be provisional in many respects.’ Though the evangelist in me balked at this humble paragraph, reading this book better equipped me for the life dialogue that evangelism shrugs off at its peril.
Faith is well but not conclusively evidenced and putting it beyond reasonable doubt is not its remit, nor does holding a reasonable faith require that. That assurance is a major thesis of Ward but one allied to some really good evidence. I liked this quotation from physicist Fred Hoyle: ‘I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside the stars’.
I was grateful for Keith Ward’s setting out the ‘axiological principle’ which is about how you bring things about now for the sake of what is to happen in the future. This is why you have minds, to make history, and it is difficult to see how there could be no big mind behind the world’s evolution, especially as we know so much about its fine tuning. Any materialist view struggles with the idea of the mind, let alone God.
The section on religion as pointer to the spiritual helpfully absolves primitive religion for its defective cosmology and praises it for its poetic ways of speaking of the awesome and the beautiful. Looking to contemporary religion, though hypocrisy and ‘congealed systems of once-fresh spiritual insights’ abound, Ward tells how it helps people deal with wrong and also to go beyond common sense which is nowadays both hedonistic and cynical.
In Keith Ward we have a great mind who helps school us in the reasonable basis of Christianity, making sense of the world and where it is meant to be heading, which is, as he says, to know God in all things and all things in God.
THE FALL AND HYPERTIME
OUP, 220pp, hbk
978 0198712695, £35
Being offered a solution when you never knew there was a problem in the first place can often be unsettling. Occasionally, it can act as a liberating eye-opener, a way into a more creative and fruitful view of the world. Preaching the Gospel often falls into this scenario: most of those we evangelize are not walking around – in the old-fashioned evangelical picture – burdened by their sins and looking for someone to lift that burden from them. Far more people, surely, learn about grace and sin more or less together: the preaching of one goes with the preaching of the other. I certainly did not know myself to be a sinner until after I had been saved.
I was once a philosophy student at university, mildly liberal and moderately Christian. One day I was invited by the Christian Union to hear a talk by a noted Oxford philosopher on the problem of personal identity and the resurrection of the body. I was entranced by one of my intellectual heroes using all his considerable skill solving a problem I never knew existed, and which still did not seem to matter, even after all that effort had been expended. I am sure, in a more modest way, I have done the same thing in subsequent years, sharing a solution to a problem that concerned no one but myself.
This book may well fall into that category. It resolves the following problem: how to reconcile a literal interpretation of the Fall, as an actual event embodying the problem of evil and the sin of Adam, and the contemporary, scientific view of human beings and the natural world. Most Christians presume these two world views – Genesis and Darwin, to put it in shorthand – as incompatible and irreconcilable, as two descriptions inhabiting two separate worlds. Indeed, the very attempt to reconcile them would be viewed by most people as absurd and misconceived. But what if you happen to be a conservative Evangelical, or in some sense a traditionalist, unhappy with classifying God’s word as myth?
Professor Hudson will now save you from having to avert your eyes when the subject comes up, usually from an aggressive atheist, of from the rather shaming vagueness of liberal fudge; he may even open your eyes to a wonderful new world of literalism in its most positive sense. This book of metaphysics is hugely inventive, highly unusual, and genuinely liberating in its originality.
I won’t give you a summary of his argument, first, because it wouldn’t make too much sense précised, and second, because it depends on what is generally known as a multiverse solution. My problem, for which I am not seeking a solution, is that I have an inherent distaste for string-theory and the whole range of current multiverse hypotheses. That may be irrational, but that’s how it is. However, most current physics and cosmology is multiverse in context, so follow Hudson, not me.
Can faith/belief in an actual event, recounted in Genesis chapter 3, be reconciled with contemporary, secular science? Yes. Even if, like me, you don’t want the actual solution because you have some other answer to the problem, you may still find the intellectual victory – expressed as the Hypertime Hypothesis – one to cheer. That someone can take on the Neo-Darwinians on their own ground and win, that is some achievement! The man deserves a prize.
BEING A CURATE
Stories of What It’s Really Like
Edited by Jonathon Ross-McNairn and Sonia Baron
SPCK, 168pp, pbk
978 0281070961, £12.99
Despite the quotation on the front cover of this volume, which suggests that Being a Curate: Stories of What It’s Really Like is a ‘must-read for all future curates’, I would be loath to let anyone offering himself for ordination read it. The concept of a book telling the stories of curates through their curacies, into first incumbency, and beyond, is much welcomed. However, to suggest that the twenty-four stories between front and back cover offer ‘wise advice’ and ‘deep theological reflection’ demonstrates either the shallow intellectual capacity of today’s clergy, or the low level of intellectual ability we expect of our ordinands.
My problems with this book are numerous. The most frustrating thing for a traditionalist Catholic reader is that the book fails to include any reflection from a conservative Catholic or Evangelical, whilst at the same time purporting to represent a wide range of experiences. In fact, while the book may be ‘inclusive of age, ethnicity and gender’, as its editors suggest, what is presented is a collection of stories from those who are liberal-minded and very middle-of-the-road in their churchmanship, despite being categorized as ‘anglo-catholic’ or ‘evangelical’. (One contributor who ministers in an ‘anglo-catholic parish’ feels the need to describe a thurible as ‘the metal pot on a chain with the burning incense in it’.)
With such contributors, one is then led to question the ecclesiology that underlies the work. This can be summarized by one contributor who reflected on their time at theological college: ‘At WEMTC we were always very conscious that we were preparing students for ministry in a Church that does not yet exist’. I understand what this contributor is trying to convey here, but I for one always believed that the Church which I serve was founded by Christ himself and continues to this day. In which case, this comment begs us to ask which novel ecclesial community this contributor was hoping to serve after his or her ordination.
The diversity of experience of the contributors also betrays how the book’s editors see the role of the ministerial priesthood in the Church of England developing in the next few decades. Few contributors, if any, laud the practice of an early selection, followed by residential training and then full-time stipendiary ministry, which, although not the only model for entry into ordained life, is still a significant pathway and has much to commend it. Instead, nearly every contributor has had an employment history, many are self-supporting ministers, some are pioneer ministers, others have a nominal attachment to a parish but a plethora of responsibilities beyond its boundaries, and few seem to express a commitment to our own denomination and would be as happy serving in a Baptist church as the Church of England.
Despite all these underlying issues, there is some salient advice presented in the volume, particularly concerning the need to be able to work well with one’s incumbent, and to maintain or build up support networks once ordained. Furthermore, in what is perhaps the book’s most useful article, Bishop Paul Butler also urges his readers to work on their relationship with the Lord, growing in Christlikeness, worship, prayer and Scripture. Then there is some wise advice from a curate’s spouse, who urges those who find themselves in such a position to be more like Dennis Thatcher than Hilary Clinton.
This book is not unhelpful for someone within his curacy, but it is far from a ‘must-read’ for those thinking about ordination. In fact, had I read the book prior to offering myself for selection, I might have presumed that it was a matter of course for my incumbent to die during my curacy, or for some great national crisis to find its focus in my parish, for such stories are presented as normal. Perhaps what is now needed is a book which tells of the humdrum of daily parish life in the same way. It might not be quite such an interesting (or frustrating) read, but it might show more accurately how those called to exercise diaconal or priestly ministry in the Church ‘tell the story and share the glory’.
PROPHETS AND VISIONARIES
Writers of Judgement
RoperPenberthy Publishing, 192pp, pbk
The other day I was doing some clearing out of drawers and boxes when I came across an end of year school report that I must have had when I was about 10 years old. In those days you were given your report to take home. Our teacher would give each of us in the class an envelope to address to our parents. I had forgotten how we would vie with one another to write the longest address we could! Not content with our parents’ names, our house number, road and town, we added the country – ‘England’, then ‘UK’, then ‘Europe’, ‘The World’, ‘The Universe’, ‘The Solar System’, etc., etc.!
I remember that this particular year we had a gifted teacher who used this apparently silly game to help us to become more aware of how we were in a relationship with individuals and communities that reached far beyond the confines of our classroom or families.
Peter Mullen does a similar thing with this book. He has selected eight writers: Samuel Johnson; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; John Henry Newman; G. K.Chesterton; T.E. Hulme; T.S. Eliot; R.G. Collingwood and C.H. Sisson. He devotes a chapter to each of them, using their own words (with quite long sections of quotations) to show how they help us, in our generation, to explore literary, theological and philosophical subjects that form the backdrop to anyone who is struggling to make sense of our individual and communal lives in the wider context of global and cosmic questions.
Peter Mullen has an impressive pedigree of over forty books of poems, novels and short stories as well as theology, philosophy and musical criticism behind him. This new book shows once again the breadth and depth of his thinking and experience and I commend it to readers who want a challenging and demanding book to help stretch their intellectual and spiritual muscles.
Alan Fiske and Tage Rai
CUP, 380pp, pbk
978 1107088207, £16.99
An American comedian is approvingly cited at the beginning of this book on the following lines (expletives deleted): ‘Motivation is overrated. You show me some lazy couch-potato, who’s lying around all day watching game shows, and I’ll show you someone who’s not causing any trouble.’ Most harm is done deliberately with moral intention. Violence, in other words, is far more often the result of good people acting voluntarily from moral principles than of bad people ignoring moral principles.
Put like this, the idea is merely provocative. The devil is in the detail. Fiske and Rai have been working on this theme – virtuous violence theory – for many years now, and their careful and exhaustive survey of different aspects of moral violence carries a great deal of conviction. They take a relational model of human behaviour: when the proper order of relationships in a specific human society are disturbed, forceful – that is to say violent – forms of behaviour have been created to re-establish the proper and moral order of those relationships. Vengeance, war, political or parental authority, and so on, can all make sense from this perspective of moral re-ordering and punishment.
Many of the chapters make for difficult reading. This is a book to dip into and out of, for the descriptions of human behaviour and their justification, often summarized from other people’s work, can become frankly unpleasant. As indeed it should, for this is a cold, dispassionate unfolding of human sin and excess. The self-flagellating fanaticism of Christian and Muslim ascetics, for example, is clearly not bed-time reading, and is not exactly palatable in the day time either. This book is worth several short sessions of figurative self-flagellation, if only to emphasize how deep this moral violence goes within us.
And yet. The authors’ cold, objective, scientific observation of the crux of the human condition does, in the end, show the aridity of this observational anthropology. Fiske’s own fieldwork was done over many years in Africa: his account of how he refused to allow his young daughter to undergo female circumcision within the village is creepy: this is the study of man by an uninvolved outsider; not without its merits and insights, but creepy all the same. It is, therefore, not surprising that neither, clearly, has ever read or probably even heard of René Girard, the greatest anthropologist of violence of the twentieth century.
Here they are, discussing the issue at the very heart of what we mean by right and wrong, a human subject that does not make sense without an expression of values, and yet they simply describe everything (often very well, it has to be said) without the slightest sense of the actual moral issues. Consider this: ‘Rape is repugnant to us, the authors, to you, the readers, and to those who have been victims of rape or who care about them. But our moral judgment of it should not blind any of us to the perpetrators’ moral motivations. Yes, to label the motivation to rape “moral” seems horrific and bizarre, but that’s what it truly is, both subjectively and in the objective technical sense.’
One could say (they would) that if you give clear definitions for the words you use, if you lay out the rules before you begin your objective investigation, then yes, you can label such motivation as ‘moral’. But you would still be wrong. The words we use to share our ideas and opinions with other people can in part be pre-defined by ourselves, but only in part. Both writer and reader are set within a wider community, not only of connotations but also of moral judgements and responses.
Their description of capital punishment, for example, as a virtuously violent means of re-establishing the proper order of human relationships within a society is telling and unexpectedly original (I had thought I knew this already). Their description of gang rape in terms of male relational bonding is also telling, if unpleasantly unsettling. Their linking of the two as ‘moral’ is just plain wrong – wrong with a capital r.
To avoid the accusation of introducing unwarranted connotations and value judgements, they should, according to their own rules of objectivity, remove the word ‘Virtuous’ from the book’s title.
Book of the month
Ian McCormack considers the lessons of local history
MORE EMPTY TABERNACLES
Another Twelve Lost Churches of London
Anglo-Catholic History Society, 158pp, pbk
No ISBN, £15 for readers of New Directions
NONE WILL REMAIN
Five Lost Churches of Manchester
Richard I. McEwan
Anglo-Catholic History Society, 2 vols, 366pp, pbk
No ISBN, £30 plus £5 p&p
Both available from <www.achs.org.uk> or 24 Cloudesley Square, London N1 0HN
There is something intrinsically melancholic about books chronicling closed or demolished churches. It exists whether or not their closure was justified: the fact that the slums had been cleared and the parishioners moved (such as at St Saviour’s Poplar and several of the other cases cited by Yelton); or that priest and many people together had crossed the Tiber in the wake of the ordination of women (such as happened at St Alban’s Cheetwood in Manchester); doesn’t make the stones that once echoed their praises any less holy, though it does make the closure virtually inevitable and probably right. In other cases, closure was anything but, and there is a ‘villain’ to be identified: all too often in these cases a diocese not keen to expend precious resources on parishes and people which decline to follow the liberalizing trends of the Church of England hierarchy – or at least not imaginative enough to see how clusters of Catholic parishes might have been maintained together (Ardwick and Gorton might have been saved in this way). In a few cases – such as that of St Hugh’s Bermondsey – some form of church community remains, but the tradition – once glorious – is long gone. Whatever the case, the melancholy is still there.
In these two handsome offerings which continue the Anglo-Catholic History Society’s sterling work in this field, Michael Yelton continues his survey of lost churches of London, and Richard McEwan begins the same process for Manchester’s lost gems. Yelton briskly surveys twelve more lost churches; McEwan delves more deeply and extensively into Manchester’s Anglo-Catholic past through the stories of five particular churches.
Throughout McEwan’s two volumes, the author periodically raises his eyes from the local stage of Manchester to survey the wider movement of which Anglo-Catholicism in Manchester was a part. His conclusions are in many ways as melancholy as the stories which he so evocatively and meticulously narrates. At the end of the book, he remembers travelling from Manchester to Oxford for 150th anniversary celebrations of the Oxford Movement in 1983, which he describes as a ‘glorious and nostalgic celebration’. The challenge is not to allow that nostalgia to gain the upper hand; not to wallow in a longed-for (and partly illusory) past. That is particularly difficult for us, McEwan says, as ‘nostalgia is built into the Anglo-Catholic psyche’. The days when, in John Betjeman’s words, ‘faith was taught and fanned into a golden blaze’, are gone and ‘are unlikely to be repeated’. History can be useful to our movement, providing we use it as a way of ‘learning lessons’, and not merely as part of a yearning for a ‘land of lost content’.
McEwan is surely right in his analysis, and not without justification in his sense of melancholy. And yet, as he himself acknowledges, the Church has stood on the brink before, and always survived. And the shoots of revival which we might long for in our movement are small and fragile, but that they are there is not in doubt. There is the invitation to flourish about which I have written in these pages before (ND, September 2014); there is the remarkable fact that God continues to supply our movement with young men willing to give their life to serving him as priests in his holy Church; and there are the countless stories of faithful priests and people in parishes large and small up and down the country who quietly get on with the job of celebrating the Sacraments, proclaiming the Gospel, and teaching the Faith. Perhaps as a movement we need to be a little less quiet in spreading this Good News? Perhaps the stories of these lost churches of Manchester and London should serve not as a downward slide towards gin and misery, but as an upward spur into growth and ministry? Perhaps we should take what is precious from our past and find ways of making it speak to the world of today? That, surely, is what the Church is called to do in each and every generation. Life in many of our parishes (particularly those which, like most of the churches featured here, are in poor and deprived areas) today is far from easy, but as both of these books make clear, our challenges are in no way greater than those which faced our forebears; merely different.
One of the marks of good local history is that the writer succeeds in making the story interesting and relevant to those who do not know the area under discussion as well as to those who do. It is to the credit of both authors that the stories they tell are of interest to those with little previous knowledge of the churches and parishes in question; not least because of the pains they both take to relate the particular histories to the wider social and religious movements of the time. They are also helped by the sizeable number of larger-than-life figures who have not infrequently graced the Catholic movement. Would that there was space to recall some of them here! But there is not – you will have to buy the books to discover them!