Tate until 15th November, 2020
Covid-19 makes a fool of writing to deadlines. With any luck by the time you’re reading this museums and galleries won’t have been closed by the ‘Second Spike.’ If that’s so, go to the Titian exhibition at the National Gallery, now open until 17th January, 2021. It shows what Lucian Freud called ‘simply the most beautiful pictures in the world.’
Andy Warhol offers something different. Tate’s reopened show argues against the received opinion that Warhol’s work declined after the attempt on his life by Valerie Solanas in 1968. Apart from the vivid 1975 ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ portraits of black and Latinx drag queens and trans women – shown for the first time in 30 years – there’s little here which makes the case. Even the charming Debbie Harry (1980) is more a reprise of Marilyn Monroe than her own spiky personality. But perhaps that was the point for both Warhol and Harry.
And ‘perhaps’ is a key to Warhol. He made a career out of ‘perhaps’, out of being very smart and reserved. He began as a commercial artist and that carried a stigma. The early criticisms that Warhol had merely technical skill and was too camp to be taken seriously – Susan Sontag who defined camp as seeing everything in quotation marks is one of the personalities who feature in the ‘Screen Tests’ (1964-5) – had some weight to them. His drawings on show at Tate are explicit and competent but have none of the flair of a David Hockney.
Still, Warhol had the intelligence, perhaps the humility, to work with what talent he had and get round those early criticisms. This is shown in the one room which has parts of the series of works which made his name. The technical limitations don’t matter when the precise rendering of soup tins or the printing of boxes of Brillo pads is all Warhol needs to make the point that America was wonderfully democratic. The idea was that everybody drank Coke so a Coke bottle was a subject for a democratic picture. The quality of the brushwork or of the paint hardly mattered.
And there is camp in ‘Elvis I and II’ (1963) with its baby blue eyes, bee stung lips and violet jeans. Perhaps Warhol had a vision of the rhinestone Elvis to come. Perhaps he saw the limitations of the man behind the wonder of the voice. But if the picture is camp, then so was Elvis. Warhol’s limits as an artist serve his vision.
And by the early 60’s the early criticisms didn’t matter. So popular were his break-through works, creating and appealing to the New York scene, that Warhol turned from meticulous and time-consuming representation, to a collaborative process of silk screen-printing. The warehouse which was the centre of his operations was aptly named ‘The Factory’ for its industrialised production of artworks. It was also a place for the counter-culture to meet, as shown in the photographs in the show. The Factory begs the question whether Andy Warhol was the Henry Ford of High Art.
Probably not. He may have developed a production line for artworks, but his salesmanship looked elsewhere, to Oscar Wilde, the contemporary of Henry Ford who made himself into an artwork. A little creepily, the exhibition has on show some of Warhol’s personal celebrity signifiers – his toupées.
Still, if it was only about the wigs Warhol’s fame would have been gone in fifteen minutes. He wouldn’t have succeeded if he hadn’t met or created a need. The need in this case was for accessible art – even if the originals commanded high prices – which tapped into the culture of the people. That most of his works were not given a title and he insisted that what they were about was all on the surface gave extra impetus for people to talk about Warhol. Critical chit-chat helped build the market for Warhol’s work.
The cultures Warhol specifically tapped into were celebrity, and especially show-biz, culture and the culture of death as witnessed in the press’s voyeuristic treatment of suicide, accidents and executions. Both cultures fascinated Warhol. But there was more. Even if he loved bling, and later sold out to the horribly rich, Warhol has a moralistic streak in his concern for the suffering and weakness of (female) cultural icons, notably Marilyn Monroe and Jacquie Kennedy. It probably doesn’t fit in with the contemporary concerns of the curators, but a man who went to Mass most Sundays and one of whose final works was a grayscale set of Last Supper reproductions, might have had desires which were not met solely by the world of sex, drugs and screen prints. Perhaps it’s time to take Warhol seriously, not as an activist avant la lettre but as a painter. As he said, it’s all there in the surfaces.
The Revd. Dr Robert Beaken
Sacristy Press, 130 pp
There are myriad examples of parish clergy who write very well; many of them blog without ranting or write articles for various websites. There are an infinite number of sermons floating about the ether, or drifting about churches in the form of photocopied pamphlets. But there are not many Robert Beaken’s around in parish ministry. Fr Beaken has a solid record and reputation as a writer of substantial books on the history of the Church of England in the twentieth century. His study of Archbishop Lang, Archbishop in War and Crisis (2012), showed a mastery of sources and some valuable and original insights into church and nation at that time. Likewise The Church of England and the Home Front 1914-1918 (2015) acutely analysed the fruits of careful and detailed research into wartime Chelmsford’s archives and parish records; his book challenged many assumptions about the church during the war. Now for something completely different: a collection of sermons.
Speaking personally, I would never dream of buying a book of sermons. Over the years I have dipped into many collections of historic interest, but I have always had a view that last Sunday’s sermon is as worth keeping as last Sunday’s newspaper. I am, however, very pleased to have read Fr Beaken’s collection. Following Christ is an excellent title for this collection; it is a sequence of clear teaching on the key elements of the Christian Faith based on the seasons of the year and various feasts. It also contains sermons preached at a First Mass, a Marriage, a Requiem, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the visit to the relics of two saints.
At times I quietly rejoiced to read such clear exposition of Christian doctrine as expressed in the catholic tradition of the Church of England. He tackles subjects such as confession, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, pilgrimage and also the Christian understanding of healing and the communion of saints. I also enjoyed the fluency with which Fr Beaken moved from traditional to modern liturgical settings. All this flows from Fr Beaken’s ministry as a parish priest during which he has served in different parts of England and in both urban and rural settings. As he writes in his introduction, ‘ I enjoy my work’, and this joy of engagement with individuals and community shines through these sermons.
Throughout all these sermons we see the fruit of Fr Beaken’s labours in the field of church history as he picks out the occasional juicy plum of detailed knowledge, or exercises the knack of placing a subject succinctly in its historical context. There is throughout a fluent and confident use of Scripture. One feels, in handing over guidance to Fr Beaken in following Christ, that one is securely held. These sermons are surprisingly brief despite the fullness of exposition of the various subjects. This makes the book ideal for dipping into.
I would have liked to know more about the context of each sermon, the when and the where of each I would have found interesting. To be fair, Fr Beaken does occasionally add this to the text or include it in the sermon. If a solid context were attributed to each sermon it would dampen the suspicion that such well-crafted pieces were written to be read rather than written to be spoken. Indeed, most of them could easily be transposed into a collection of essays; but that may be a bit of sour grapes on my part!
Having been unenthusiastic about a collection of sermons I found myself thinking ‘who would benefit from reading this?’ There is enough richness and originality of content to interest the seasoned sermon hearer, and it certainly would work as an introduction to the Christian Faith, or the basis for confirmation preparation. It could have a multitude of applications. It is very attractive little book to have around and delight to read with a very clear typeface. It has not been difficult to be very positive about this collection which was produced as a thanksgiving for thirty years in ordained ministry: here’s to many years more!
Verbum Domini –
Pope Benedict XVI
The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
Alive Publishing 2020 (2nd Edition) £4.95 ISBN 978-1-906278-11-3 170pp
A reminder that ‘all authentic and living Christian spirituality is based on the word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated and meditated upon in the Church’ is timely. It is especially so as 2020 is kept across the world as the Year of the Bible. The republication of emeritus Pope Benedict’s 2010 exhortation on the Bible is linked to this and to the 1600th anniversary of the heavenly birthday of bible teacher St Jerome in 2020. How can we live free without welcoming the truth in Jesus that accomplishes this freedom (John 8:32)? As St Ambrose puts it, ‘When we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden’. Just as God’s Word – not text but the living Lord Jesus – comes to us by the Spirit through bread and wine so Scripture is to be received and understood by the same Spirit. The author builds expectancy about this freeing process within Christian discipleship. Pope Benedict structures his work around John 1:1-18 noting St Augustine’s comment on that passage: ‘you were created through the word, but now through the word you must be recreated’.
St Jerome appears on the cover of this second edition of Verbum Domini and he is quoted several times: ‘When we approach the [Eucharistic] Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears yet we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?… How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?… Read the divine Scriptures frequently; indeed, the sacred book should never be out of your hands [he writes to a priest]. Learn there what you must teach… Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ’. In reading such inspiring words I reflected on the irony of the Church suffering the Reformation partly on account of the shortfall in biblical literacy. Not directly saying the same Benedict nevertheless quotes Amos 8:11, ‘The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord’. The exhortation is a timely builder of love for the Bible and, in Anglican fashion, recovery of ‘the unity between word and sacrament in the ministry of the Church’.
I appreciated the author’s gathering together of thinking on the Bible from Vatican II onwards, especially this challenging paragraph from the Pontifical Biblical Commission on biblical literalism: ‘The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and human… for this reason, it tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit. It fails to recognise that the word of God has been formulated in language and expression conditioned by various periods’. This passage is challenging because it tells how despite fundamentalism’s association with a close personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ there is within it an implicit distancing of God and an individualism blind to the corporate nature of mainstream Christian believing. Benedict sets against this another quote from St Augustine: ‘I would not believe the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church led me to do so’.
True to its subtitle ‘The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church’ the book ends with a joyous missionary challenge to perpetuate ‘making God known’ (John 1:18) through word and example, the life of the Christian community and social media, in respectful dialogue with other faiths. In this process Benedict sees the given-ness of scripture as key asset in presenting the invitation of the word of God, Jesus Christ, to this generation. ‘If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great… Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed… Christ takes nothing away and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return… Open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life’. Amen indeed!
SAINTS & HOLY PLACES OF
A Pilgrims’ Guide to God’s Own County
Sacristy Press, 122pp, £7.99
When friends come to visit me in my Yorkshire parish, it is not unusual for us to head out on day trips to various locations across God’s Own County. Whether they are devout believers, agnostics or atheists – though I confess most fall into the first category – these day trips naturally take in some of the ecclesiastical sights which have shaped the history, heritage, and ongoing culture of this region which is proud of its distinctive identity. For the novice, Gavin Wakefield’s book Saints & Holy Places of Yorkshire: A Pilgrims’ Guide to God’s Own County would be an ideal accompaniment to their visit, and would transform it from a tourist endeavour into a mini-pilgrimage, with space to absorb the diverse history and geography of the largest county in England, and reflect on matters pertinent to faith today.
The book takes in more or less the whole of Yorkshire, and is constructed so to enable a seven-day tour of the region, in its North, South and East Ridings. (We note the use of the ridings rather than the post-1974 local government boundaries, which appeals to this Yorkshireman!) Middlesbrough and the north of the county receive little attention, and other important sights which might appeal to the reader (such as Ampleforth Abbey, the former Gilbertine priory at Malton, and the tomb of St William of York at York Minster) are omitted, though perhaps the author wishes to keep the volume brief and manageable, which it is.
Each chapter is divided into sections on the people and places of the area under scrutiny, and these are followed by a short prayer and a section on practicalities. The most useful and enjoyable information is undoubtedly contained in the people and places sections, and whilst the short prayer reminds the reader that he or she is undertaking a pilgrimage, the practicalities section is perhaps a little unnecessary in the age of the SatNav. It was also hard to discern why Wakefield constructed the pilgrimage route as he did, which involves the reader moving from Whitby to Rievaulx on day one, then crossing the ridings to explore Beverley and Hull on day two, before returning later in the book to the north to take in Ripon and Fountains Abbey, but this does not diminish the book’s achievement in suggesting an enjoyable seven day circuit.
Wakefield’s personality comes across aplenty in the book. This is endearing as one gains an insight into a Christian believer for whom the ordinary is important, and who wants to share his faith for the benefit of others. He is also evidently committed to matters of justice, as his selection and interpretation of characters, and the ensuing prayers he has written, demonstrate. Yet there are times when Wakefield’s own ecclesiology can frustrate: he does little to deconstruct the myth of the big, bad, authoritarian Roman Church against the nice, gentle, Celtic alternative in the Saxon period – the section on Wilfrid explains how the saint is ‘mostly remembered for his part in the supposed battle between a bureaucratic and remote Roman Church, and a spiritually sensitive Celtic Church’ and he describes him as a ‘difficult’ figure to accept – and likewise in his consideration of Reformation figures, Wakefield paints the picture as very black and white, suggesting some were ‘Roman Catholics’ who ‘changed back to Protestant’. We know the picture in both these periods is more nuanced than this, and this does not come across. Whilst the characters chosen are diverse, St Margaret Clitherow, for instance, is described as ‘not have been inclined to quote scripture’ and this reviewer wonders whether that assertion comes from any evidence, or a judgment that mediaeval women were uneducated in any form of Biblical literacy. Other characters are also interpreted in light of modern preoccupations, such as reconciliation and ‘openness’, and there are a few anachronisms, such as the use of the word ‘leader’ to describe a number of the figures in question, and the idea that the Rowntrees would have supported the modern ‘Fair Trade movement today’. The importance of Prayer for the Dead in its historical context is also omitted, whilst characters that were formed in a corporate understanding of faith are treated as if their individual faith is what mattered – Wilfrid is described as having a ‘personal commitment to Christ’, which is true, I’m sure, but is only half the equation.
The success of the book nonetheless rests in its diversity of characters and its portrayal of the ordinary. Indeed, Wakefield seems most at home when describing characters such as David Watson, Polly and Smith Wigglesworth, and Ted Wickham. There is even an amusing anecdote included concerning Richard Rolle and his predilection for ladies with ‘great bosoms’, which I have to say took this reader by surprise in what is otherwise a very gentle and mild publication!
Saints & Holy Places of Yorkshire: A Pilgrims’ Guide to God’s Own County is a volume which would suit a first-time visitor to Yorkshire, or someone who is new to the county and wanted to explore its vast geography and interesting history through a lens of faith. It is not an historical work, and its historical interpretation is perhaps of a lower standard than this reviewer would like, yet it paints a picture of a diverse county which inspires love, devotion and pride, and could act as a gateway to further exploration if the reader has the time and desire.
Trinitarian Theology in
Medieval and Reformation Thought
Slotemaker, John T.
Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, 131pp
Perhaps the single most challenging job for any aspiring preacher is preach on Trinity Sunday. You have, broadly, two options. You can say really very little about the Trinity, skirting around the issue by saying something to the effect of ‘God’s inner life is love, so let’s talk about love’, tidily dodging the question whilst also giving your congregation something to think about. Alternatively, you could try to say something really substantial about the Trinity. You could have a go at discussing the opposed relations within God that – according to the majority tradition going back to about Hugh of St. Victor – in some sense constitute the Trinity; the Father being distinct from the Son by the former’s paternity. But then you’re at risk of preaching heresy. Even in this review, at least a few of my readers may have winced at the word ‘constitute’, lest I have given some incorrect impression to a less-well-read brother or sister in Christ.
Part of the nightmare isn’t that the Trinity can be really tough to understand, but that you have to pick your way through jargon that isn’t only deeply technical but that is also bound by the authority of Councils. The rules, after all, state that there are five notions, four relations, three persons, two emanations, and one essence in God, and one has to put these words together in exactly the right order to avoid heresy. There is a grammar to talk about the Trinity, and you can seem to do a lot of work on the Trinity just by putting these words together in the correct order.
The problem is, of course, that these are all nonsense jargon words meaningless to all normal people, which lead the great Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan to claim that there is also zero comprehension in his students when he lectured on the Trinity. Part of the danger is that a well-meaning preacher may speak in a deeply orthodox manner on Trinity Sunday, only to be floored when a member of the congregation asks why there are not, in fact, four things in the Trinity: the Three persons and the essence. The worry is that it is very easy to pretend to know things about the Trinity, when really you’re just putting words together in the correct order.
At the end of his book, Slotemaker cites Archbishop Williams, who once famously said that “theology… is perennially liable to be seduced by the prospect of bypassing the question of how it learns its own language”. What this means is that no one really wants to do the boring and difficult work of learning what exactly we mean by person when we could be simply obeying the above rules of grammar. To get to understand the Trinitarian doctrine of the Church, you have to get used to fiddly jargon and you have to learn deep patience to begin to get used to this fiddly jargon.
Slotemaker is right when he notes that most books – even ‘introductory’ ones – on the Trinity are hundreds of pages long; I’ve often thought that they’d make poetic murder weapons in Morse or Lewis. Not only is one faced with technical jargon and rigid grammar, but also with a potentially deadly weapon. And, frankly, even as someone interested in Medieval theology and metaphysics, I can’t admit to being wildly excited to crack open one of these tomes.
Slotemaker is aware both of Archbishop Williams’ worry and Inspector Lewis’; trying to learn anything about the Trinity is incredibly difficult. I can only offer Slotemaker deep praise for writing a book on the Trinity – even if only the Trinity in the Middle Ages – which runs to under 150 pages. This is a book you can read in your favourite chair over a few afternoons and which, if you are willing to be rather patient, you can finish, even without a particularly strong background in theology. I’m inclined to believe that this is the point, that the point of this work is to try to address a lack of education in what is one of the defining doctrines of Christianity.
The historical context helps the discussion too. The Trinity is, after all, a Doctrine the Church has come to develop over time, rather than being laid out explicitly in Scripture (Matthew 28:19 is the closest we get, and none of the jargon I gave above is listed), and understanding the moving forces of history is important if you want to understand why we have the Doctrine of the Trinity we do today. It is, after all, important that the discussion of the Trinity from St. Thomas Aquinas to John Calvin takes place in the shadow of what is said in Lateran IV, and that there are other traditions that try to explain the Trinity that, whilst not heretical or contrary to the teachings of the Church, are not a part of school that came out of that Council. Also interesting is that Slotemaker brings our attention to an oddity of Western theology: both Catholics and Protestants in the Middle Ages (up to about the 17th Century) believed very similar things about the Trinity. There is an important point made here that a lot of the Reformers weren’t as radical as we may like to think, with a single theological traditional carrying on up to, at least, Kant in the 1790s.
Slotemaker really has tried to write a book on the Trinity that gives people an ‘in’ to this discussion, and he does pretty well. Some details are missed – quite why Scotus is sceptical of the relational theory of the Trinity isn’t explained, only that he is, for example – but those are all details that you can go and find out having been given the leg-up into the world of Trinitarian chatter. I can’t deny that the book is limited, but that seems to be the point, and by forcing himself to be so limited, Slotemaker has ended up putting together a book that is much more user friendly than any other on the Trinity that springs to mind. I am frankly glad that someone has taken up this challenge and risen to it so elegantly.
As, I’m sure, are the residents of Lewis’ Oxford.
God’s Church in the World
the Gift of Catholic Mission
Susan Lucas, Ed
Canterbury Press, 2020
“In our Church at the moment there is, if not exactly a struggle, certainly a tension about how we imagine the Church itself.” So begins Rowan William’s contribution to this important book, and he could have scarcely imagined how acutely that tension would be felt over recent months. The publication of the contributions to the joint Anglican Catholic Future and Forward in Faith conference on Catholic Mission held in September 2018 is therefore a timely one, and Susan Lucas has done us all a great service in drawing the material together. Here is a significant contribution to dialogue across a Church of England where it can often feel as if energy and investment are drawn into other traditions and expressions of church life, and where sacramental worship is sometimes understood as an optional extra for those who like that sort of thing. In the diverse contributions to the conference that are gathered together here we catch a glimpse of the rich and varied landscape opened up by an understanding of the mission of the Church that is rooted in the Catholic tradition. As Susan Lucas notes in her introduction the themes of the papers are neither exclusive or exhaustive in terms of how Catholic Anglicans approach mission, but they offer the reader a compelling vision of the way sacramental life carries us into the presence and purpose of the saving work of God in Jesus Christ.
The three keynote addresses form the first section of the book. The first of these, ‘Mission and the life of Prayer’ by Rowan Williams implicitly helps us towards a definition of what mission actually is: that it’s not another activity alongside others on a PCC agenda that can be ticked off a list of tasks to complete. Mission is a fundamental characteristic of the Church which is “because God is and acts”. The Church “opens up the new world in Jesus” and in her life she naturally draws and invites humanity to be a part of that.
Rowan Williams writes in his contribution of the invitation that is at the heart of our offering of the Eucharist, and unsurprising echo of St Teresa of Avila who writes in The Way of Perfection of the Eucharist as that place where God is inviting people to be his friends. There is here another implicit definition that runs through all the contributions in this book, and which could perhaps have been given a sharper focus, that what is distinctive about the way Anglo-Catholics understand mission is that it is Eucharistic in shape. Damian Feeney looks at this in his ‘Reflections on the Sacraments as Converting Ordinances’ and Anna Matthews calls us to “Eucharistic living” in her sermon given at Evensong during the Conference. The Mass shapes the life of the Church, challenging us to live the new creation that it proclaims.
In the second of the keynote addresses Alison Milbank reminds us that the Church is more than a convenient structure for arranging our corporate life. It is that sacred body through which we are being saved for ever by Christ. The life of the Church reflects the life of God the Holy Trinity, and a distinctive witness of Catholic Anglicans is to the God who communicates himself to us as holiness, by becoming incarnate, and through the gift of relationship. The disciplines and habits of Catholic life take seriously the call of the Holy God to share in his holiness; the sacraments convey the grace and power of the God who through them goes on being sent for the world’s good; and the vitality of community life is a sign of the action of the Holy Spirit who draws us together into unity.
It is left to Luke Miller in his contribution ‘God’s Mission as Our Mission’ to draw out the practical implications of some of this. As you would expect for one rooted in parish ministry he does this in an imaginative and challenging way, using the thinking of Fr George Congreve as the springboard for some suggestions about how Anglo-Catholics might re-kindle a pioneering sense in mission today. (A theme picked up by Fr Miller’s successor as Parish Priest of St Mary’s, Tottenham, Fr Simon Morris, a little later in the book; and by Stephen Spencer who, in the final part of his final chapter offers some challenging observations about how we might express some of the ‘theory’ in our ministry now).
Perhaps these three contributions highlight something of my frustrations in the book, and that has to do with balance. One of the accusations we sometimes hear levelled against Anglo-Catholics is that we’re very good at talking about mission, we might even say that we’re even better at articulating why mission is hard in the landscape of the contemporary Church of England. In that respect this book is an excellent resource, and offers a way into making the connections between sacramental life and the possibilities it offers us for growth as individuals and communities. Whilst there are huge drawbacks in books of programmes and models that try to tell us, even from a Catholic perspective, how to renew our parishes and to grow in number, we do need to be able to find ways of telling practical stories of how Catholic mission ‘works’. The ultimate value of ‘God’s Church in the World: the gift of Catholic Mission’ will be in the fruit that it bears.