All too human

Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life

Tate Britain

until 27th August


It’s not entirely clear what the title of this show refers to. Probably it’s the human bodies painted by the artists. It could be the interest in the human landscape. It probably isn’t the intellectual coherence of the hang, though it should be.

But – and there’s a lot of buts to come – this is a show would should be visited because it contains a number of good paintings, not all of which are regulars at Tate shows. There’s a range of excellent artists – Bomberg, Sickert, Spencer, Freud, Bacon, Auerbach, Kossoff, Rego, Kitaj, Saville, Uglow – so the visitor should find something to like. In particular, a number of the Bacons are rarely seen in public and his early works are particularly interesting.

The artists in the show all enjoy their medium. As the catalogue says, they use paint to say things they can’t say in words which is hardly revelatory, but it is one of the links which gives the show some coherence. The first room of the show with works by Sickert, Bomberg, Spencer and Soutine has many of the best paintings and does suggest the show is about the human figure, but it also contains landscapes for no very obvious reason. So perhaps its all about paint and the human landscape after all.

The centre of the show, chronologically and physically is made up of works by Freud and Bacon, and, to a lesser extent, works by Auerbach and Kossoff – the ‘London school.’ And one reading of the show is that it is about painters who influenced Freud and Bacon, and the painters they influenced. Some of these influences are clear. Bacon and Freud talked and drank together a lot. Even when their work moved in different directions they shared a harsh view of mankind. But how Chaim Soutine was an influencer on them is not made clear. He did paint figures. He did use a lot of paint (if not in the near industrial quantities of Auerbach). But he hardly matches the sensitive brushwork of the early Freud or the anguish of Bacon. And the examples of his work at Tate Britain are poor. He was a mitteleuropean, but, unlike the equally mitteleuropean Freud, he was not a Londoner.

The other European import on show is Giacometti who did influence Bacon but whose one statue here looks lonely in all the prevailing gloom and Britishness. And it is often an unhappy show. Auerbach and Kossoff do manage to lighten the Freudian cool and the Baconian agony. But even the earlier painters do not raise the spirits. Bomberg’s self-portrait has a certain Edwardian bluster about it. Sickert’s ‘Nuit d’été’ is brilliant but seedy. Spencer’s portraits, clothed and unclothed, of his lesbian wife, Paulina Preece, capture all too well a woman who has had an especially bad press.

So it goes on. Even Kitaj’s party pieces can’t raise the mood. Maybe that’s why in this rollcall of key British painters there’s no Hockney. He is, after all, a painter of the nude and of landscape. Some of his work isn’t cheerful. Perhaps it’s because his use of paint is not as luscious as some of the other painters on show. But then, why include Paula Rego whose work is narrative and pastel, not portrait and oil, and who was not obviously influenced by Bacon or Freud? Maybe in the last two rooms populated entirely by female artists, chosen by all the female curating team, we are being told what is the way ahead for British art. The politics of the oppressed is so often the underlying theme of Tate it maybe that that is what the show is really about, a symbolic dethroning of the Western male tradition. That would at least explain why Lynette Yiadom-Boayke and F.N. Souza have been included, neither of whom stand up well against their contemporaries.  

Perhaps the best way to view the show is not as a show but as a museum collection, like Tate Britain’s chronologically themed galleries. And as the sort of collection which is strong in some areas and not others. Take away the need to work out what the curators are upto and a burden is lifted. Then ponder Freud’s coldly observed flesh and compare it to the joy Reubens found in skin tone. Wonder whether any human interaction could be innocent after Paula Rego has painted it. Enjoy Auerbach’s North London with its echoes of Paddington Bear. But don’t try to see into the mind of the curators.

Owen Higgs





Francis Young

Palgrave Macmillan, 275pp., £63

ISBN: 9783319291116


I was thoroughly excited to receive a copy of this book from the author for review — the topic is something that I find increasingly important to examine. On the one hand, as Dr Young himself observes in the book’s preface, recent times have seen an increased demand for exorcism, and therefore it is important to know the history of the Church’s ministry in this field. On the other hand, within the contemporary church (and in society at large) the subject is usually treated in one of three ways: dismissive cynicism, bewilderment, or obsessive enthusiasm. None of the three is particularly helpful. Therefore it is important to have a resource at hand which offers an overview that retains its academic calm about the subject, while still proving to be useful for clergy and theologians as well; especially considering that before this work no such history of exorcism had been compiled in English.

This is not a book of popular theology, and it is definitely not one for satiating interest in the spectacular and the grotesque. Therefore Dr Young does not focus on possession and similar phenomena (the history of these topics has already been covered by others from many angles), but on the “theological, liturgical and legal foundation” and historic development of the practice exorcism in what he calls the “Latin West”.

Dr Young, based on Sarah Ferber’s work, notes that historically speaking exorcism experiences a resurgence when two conditions are present: “division within the church and fear of an external spiritual enemy”. It is through these lenses that he examines its liturgical and dogmatic development, ranging from the Patristic period to present age. He examines the Latin and Greek Fathers’ writings (Augustine, Origen and others); the Middle Ages, with a longer discussion of England; the Counter-Reformation (being the age of the codification the 1614 official exorcism rite and the emergence of some rather eccentric exorcism manuals preceding it); the Age of Reason; and the Age of Doubt. Dr Young also briefly considers how exorcism was practiced in the context of Catholic mission: in countries under Protestant rule (Ireland, Netherlands), in South America during the conquests, or during the age of missions to the Far East. In the final chapter, “The Return of Exorcism” he reflects on contemporary strands and debates within the Roman Catholic Church, written with the aid of a priest who himself is an exorcist.

Although the book is primarily a work of history, it remains a useful resource for liturgists and theologians. Dr Young’s in-depth examination of the exorcism rites of the Roman Church (ranging from 7-8th century sources through the well-known 17th century rite to the latest 1999 rite) provides comparisons for historians interested in liturgy and dogma, and the book also offers insight into the development of the theology of demonic possession and evil. The book could serve as a great spring-board for further study into either topic.

One of the things that I appreciate most in Dr Young’s method is that he insists that the historical sources he examines need to be read with theology in mind, something that academia often neglects. He fully takes the beliefs of his subjects into account, and resists judging them according to post-modern standards. But at the same time he does flag up some of the uneasy, controversial, or at times outright deplorable streaks in the history of exorcism: whether that be the murky connection between magic and exorcism and the potential cross-pollination between them, employing exorcism as a way of religio-political machination during the time of the Reformation, or the sexual abuse by priests and mendicant friars during the age of colonisation under the pretext of exorcism.

Exorcism has been a much larger feature of the Church’s self-understanding and mission than we often realise: so its study provides insight into church history more broadly. And if, as Dr Young observes as his closing remark, “the exorcists, it would seem, are here to stay”, then perhaps we need to take the increased demand for exorcisms more seriously, and put this book on our reading list.

Dr Young’s style is easy to understand by non-experts in the field (although some basic knowledge of some anthropological concepts might prove helpful), and the book is of reasonable length. The only thing I lament about this work is its price-tag — although I suspect it is primarily intended for libraries of universities and theological colleges, i.e. not the bookshelves of junior clergy like myself. For such institutions it would be a worthwhile purchase, and I would suggest that it is still worth acquiring for those with an interest in church history and liturgy, and of course those who find themselves engaged in the ministry of deliverance.

Readers might be interested to know that Dr Francis Young is currently working on another book on this topic, but this time from an Anglican perspective, titled ”A History of Anglican Exorcism: Deliverance and Demonology in Church Ritual.” It will be published by I. B. Tauris later this year.

Endre Kormos



Knowing and Loving the Triune God

George Westhaver, Ed.

SCM Press, 252 pp, £35.

ISBN 9780334055686


It is a long time since one human mind has been able to be acquainted with all areas of intellectual enquiry, let alone master them; the sheer variety of areas of study makes academic specialisation necessary. Within the realm of theology there are many discrete disciplines – systematics, biblical studies, patristics and so on – and each has their own body of work, their own language and their own internal culture. Whilst these divisions can bring many advantages to the furtherance of knowledge, something is lost when no one can hope to have an overview. But Theology properly so called is seeking after knowledge of God, in His Tri-unity, a statement which all Christian theologians, whatever their specialisation, should hopefully agree with.

Taking that as a starting point, the first biannual Pusey House conference A Transforming Vision: Knowing and Loving the Triune God was held between 29 June and 1 July 2016 – this volume is the published proceedings of that event. The conference and this book which sprang from it are seeking to establish an arena in which the big themes of theology (in this first conference, the Holy Trinity) can be considered from a variety of perspectives. Those different angles include both different confessional backgrounds and multiple academic specialisations but all within the context of Christian theology. Another essential element of the ethos of the conference was that the business of talking about theology would not be divorced, as it so often can be, from what we might call the practice of theology: prayer and worship.

The book of the conference gets across these twin themes. The excellent daily sermons preached at the conference liturgies by Bishop Jonathan Goodall are included in full with a helpful reminder of the biblical texts of the day, and these give a spiritual frame to the more academic texts of the papers. The range of subjects in those papers is wide, from the fascinating exploration of musical and visual perception as it relates to the Holy Trinity by Jeremy Begbie to Wisdom as True Worship in the work of St Augustine by Paige E. Hochschild (amongst other chapters which take the Fathers as their starting point) right up to great 20th Century theologians in the papers on Bulgakov by Andrew Louth and von Balthasar by Lucy Gardner.

Each chapter contributed is of a high standard and can be read on its own, though obviously the point of the book is that they are collected together so that they can be read together. It was a pity that for Ayla Lepine and Jeremy Begbie’s chapters the images that accompany them were not printed in colour. However, with a relatively short print run this might have pushed the cover price too high to be practicable. The provision of both a Biblical and subject index is welcome and the layout throughout is clear and easy to read. It must be said that the book is almost worth buying just for the nine-page transcription of the concluding address given by Bishop Rowan Williams. It was, as far as one could tell, pretty much off the cuff, tying in even the lecture that had finished only moments before, and knits together the whole collection beautifully: if you do buy this volume, read this last chapter first.

The 2018 Pusey House conference, ‘Totus Christus: Knowing and Loving the Son of Man’ takes place from the 9 July to the 11 July, and we hope to review the published proceedings here in due course.

Guy Willis



Dom Denys Prideax 1864-1934

Aidan Harker

Anglo-Catholic History Society pp 197

ISBN 978-0-9560565-9-0


In The Jubilee Book of the Benedictines of Nashdom, published in 1965, which was a slim volume of 86 pages, the chapter entitled ‘The Passing of Abbot Denys’ states that ‘no life of this remarkable character has been written … it is only a very skilled professional biographer who would dare to undertake such a task.’ This biography is so engrossing that it is difficult to set aside; our grateful thanks to Father Aidan Harker for completing this long overdue record of the sacrifices and achievements of Abbot Denys.

Fr Harker has produced, after much research, a fascinating and extremely well written study of the life and achievements of Dom Denys Prideaux, founder and abbot of the Benedictine Community of Pershore and Nashdom, England. His contribution to the revival and re-establishment of Benedictine life in the Church of England following its dissolution during the reign of Henry VII was immense, and he succeeded in founding a stable community where earlier attempts had failed.

As is true for many pioneers, life was not a barrel of fun. Abbot Denys ploughed a lonely furrow and had much to contend with. Through his wisdom, practicality, perseverance, wide reading and learning in both history and theology, he was able to convince the Church of England (or most of it at any rate) that Benedictine life should be restored. With regard to the Fourth Canon of Chalcedon – that no monastery may be erected in any diocese without the sanction of the local bishop – he worked out the justification for the reestablishment of religious life based on the authority of the diocesan bishop, without reference to Rome. Benedictine life predates the Reformation and cannot belong to the Roman Catholic church alone.

Abbot Denys was educated at the universities of Leipzig and Cambridge and trained at Cuddesdon. His wide reading and massive learning in many areas of church history, the spiritual life, of ascetic and mystical theology together with his knowledge of European languages, gave him and excellent background for and understanding of the monastic life. He was concerned not with medieval re-enactment but of the Benedictine life in modern conditions and was aware of the need to be abreast of debates and developments in the church and society.

Nothing in life can be excluded from or divorced from the life of Christ and the Incarnation – apart from sin. Abbot Denys was firm on the necessity of taking on the ‘personality’ of Christ. He was the only person, as far as I can recall, who has referred to St Benedict as the ‘Patron Saint of Personality’. The Rule of St Benedict laid stress on Christ as both divine and human – as revealed in the written word of the Bible – as these together build up the complete man in Christ.

Whilst it is a pity that no index has been included, and there are a number of typographical errors in the text, these are really editorial criticisms – and Fr Aidan deserves our congratulations for this timely biography.

Dom Placid Lawson OSB


Prime Ministers: Brief Lives from Walpole to May

Andrew Gimson

Square Peg 306pp £10.99

ISBN: 978 1 910 93143 1


Two quiz questions: (1) In which three years were there three different Prime Ministers? (2) Who was the first officially to be appointed as Prime Minister? Answers below.

In a series of deft essays here are those who have climbed to the top of the “greasy pole” in Disraeli’s lapidary phrase. His pantheon of great premiers are accorded longer treatment; the duds rarely more than a page and a half. Yet in each he succeeds in capturing the essence of his subject. His heroes have their weaknesses, the also-rans redeeming features. Lord North, for example, who is known, if known at all, for presiding over the loss of the American colonies emerges as a much more substantial figure. He does not, however, wreathe first rank. They are Walpole, both William Pitts, father and son, Earl Grey of the Reform Bill, Robert Peel, William Gladstone, his great rival Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Salisbury, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee (having read John Bew’s biography, the hitherto underrated Attlee fully deserves his place and my admiration for him grows and grows), and that force of nature, like her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher.

Not all the conclusions and judgements will meet universal assent (H. H. Asquith is undervalued and underrated for my taste) and there is plenty of scope for disagreement and argument. However, all Mr Gimson’s verdicts are rooted in wide reading and a firm grasp of history and human frailties. He also writes with wit. His essay on Edward Heath begins: “Ted Heath presented himself as the man who would rescue the country from Harold Wilson, but turned out to be not the kind of person one would wish to be rescued by.” There are nice touches of personal history, such as the two Prime Ministers who gave their names to items of clothing (the Wellington boot and the Anthony Eden, a black homburg hat), and that Leo Blair (born 2000) was the first child born to a serving prime Minister since 1846 (Lord John Russell). These grace notes add a nicely human dimension.

In a good introductory essay the attributes to attain the position are set out, of which the most necessary seem to be luck and being in the right place at the right time. More often than you might think, however, obvious talent and ability will win through but often the crown prince remains uncrowned. Few Prime Ministers leave office voluntarily. Death, illness, party intrigue and plotting, usurpation and defenestration, the unfavourable verdict of the electorate do for most of them. Of the 20th and 21st century Prime Ministers only Stanley Baldwin and Harold Wilson went at the time of their choosing,

It is, of course, a ludicrously demanding job and, compared to rapacious bankers and the like, ridiculously underpaid. But seek it they do and occasionally they enjoy it.

Martin Rowson provides vivid, sometime benign, sometimes sharp, caricatures. That of a grinningly grotesque extra-terrestrial alien Tony Blair is as cruelly malicious as any you would find in the 18th century. Diverting and informative, a primer for those who want to find out more, the book is well worth its bargain price.

Answers: (1) 1782 Lord North, Marquess of Rockingham, Earl of Shelburne. 1827 Earl of Liverpool, George Canning, Lord Grenville. 1868 Earl of Derby, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone (2). Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman 1906 was appointed Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury; previously it had been only to the latter title.

William Davage