The Creed in Slow Motion
Hodder and Stoughton, 2022
At Mass the whole congregation say the Creed together. It does not take us long. Why write a book on the Creed? Martin Kochanski’s reply is that the Creed is important because it ‘tells us who we are’, reminds us of truths, and steers us away from mistakes made by people in the past. The Creed is the ‘bones of Christian faith’ (6). Without it we might have no faith at all, just a badge, or ‘a mere cultural identity’ (2), perhaps as members of the ‘Jesus of Nazareth Society’, as Rowan Williams quips (Williams, God With Us, 2017, p. 69.) Kochanski’s In Slow Motion refers to the forty chapters in which he comments on each phrase of the Creed in turn.
Martin Kochanski is best known for being the creator of the website Universalis which gives daily readings, prayers and psalms, the Liturgy of the Hours of the Catholic Church, and much more. He is forthright about what his book is not. It is not a historical study of the creation of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Nicea in AD 325 and its amendment in 381, written by a ‘dismal pedant’ (6). Neither is it a theological monograph, nor a Catechism or teaching aid, although such books are valuable. He does not write as a professional theologian and he does not intend ‘high theology.’ Instead his is a book of ‘low’ or ‘lay’ theology’ that aims to help us engage with the Creed.
In defence of ‘low theology’ Kochanski argues that if God had wanted a hierarchical possession of knowledge he would have arranged it that way while he was here, but he did not. Instead of scribes and doctors from the Temple he chose fishermen and amateurs to enlighten the world. Julian of Norwich was not a scribe or doctor but 630 years later her work still enlightens us. What is important for Kochanski is that we search for the truth in the Creed rigorously the same way as we would for the truth in a mathematical theorem, or experiments in physical sciences. Any statement made must be disprovable. Thus we are instructed to ‘love the Lord your God with heart, soul, strength, and mind’ (Luke 10:27). God and the world he created must be accessible to our human reason and understanding. (5) Throughout Kochanski makes analogies with ‘other sciences’ (27) naming physics, mathematics and theology and draws on philosophy, ancient mythology, history, language, and humour too.
God the Creator is unknowable and nameless. When Moses asks God for his name God answers ‘I am who I am’. A philosophical analysis of this requires two steps. First, ‘what kind of thing is this?’, and second ‘which one of those things of that kind are you?’. ‘With God’ the first step fails. God is not any kind of thing and cannot be named. Kochinski goes further, ‘God ought not to be named’ (18) but although just as nobody can encompass infinity but a mathematical symbol allows it to be talked about, so the Jewish ‘symbol’ for god, the Hebrew YHWH, is not a name, although it ends up used as one. For liturgical purposes the Jerusalem Bible substitutes Adonai, or ‘The Lord’. You cannot name God.
God is numberless as well as nameless. Here Kochanski turns to St. Thomas Aquinas who tells us ‘I believe in one God’ is not an answer to ‘how many?’ (23.)
There are no other gods. Kochanski takes the opportunity to remind us that we renounce slavery to all the ‘little might-be-gods’ such as ‘horoscopes, racial purity, cultural hygiene, economic progress, personal fulfilment and the rest’ (25). ‘You shall have no other gods but me’ (Exodus 20:3) shows us where true life is. Here Kochanski turns to his own parable of the Cube (27, one of several) to illustrate that we understand a cube has six sides although we cannot see all sides at the same time.
Kochanski’ highlights the changes in language that over centuries have obscured meaning in the Creed. For example in ‘I believe in one God’ in Latin translated literally into English would be ‘I believe into God’ which is bad English. A better understanding would be ‘I put my trust in God’. Another example is ‘salvation’. In Latin salus means something like safety or health. There is no direct English translation, but salvatio means the act of causing someone to be salus, or all right. So salvatio becomes the English salvation. Possibly ironically Kochanki comments that we are often uncomfortable with the word salvation because to suggest one needs salvation is to imply that someone is not all right. And that today is not acceptable.
Despite denial of academic intent Kochanski provides a section on further reading making reference to Homer’s Iliad, Dante’s Divine Comedy (including details of many translations), C. S, Lewis and Julian of Norwich among others. Footnotes reference Ovid, St. Augustine and Primo Levi among many other authors from antiquity to the present.
Perhaps this interesting and unusual book is best understood as a work of Christian Apologetics. The modern understanding of apology is an expression of regret or reparation (first noted Shakespeare’s Richard III according to the OED). But the earlier, now obsolete, understanding was a defence against a charge, and in particular Apologist was the name given to the work of 2nd century Christians defending a charge brought by Jewish or Roman authorities. (St. Paul in Acts 17:17 RSV, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2009.) Kochanski’s book is a Christian Apology for our times.
In the Shadow of Death
A Life of Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury
James Clark and Co, 2021
If you enjoyed Owen Chadwick’s The Victorian Church, you will certainly enjoy In the Shadow of Death, John Witheridge’s sympathetic biography of Archibald Campbell Tait (1811-82), Archbishop of Canterbury 1868-82.
Tait was born in Edinburgh on 21 December 1811 to prosperous Presbyterian parents. After studying at Glasgow University, he moved in 1830 to Balliol College, Oxford, where he converted to Anglicanism. He became a Fellow in 1834 and was ordained in 1835. Tait was an early critic of the Oxford Movement. In 1842 he succeeded Thomas Arnold as headmaster of Rugby and in 1849 became Dean of Carlisle. Five of Tait’s daughters died of scarlet fever at Carlisle in 1856: Witheridge’s account of their deaths and of the Christian faith exhibited by Tait and his wife Catherine in the face of this tragedy is profoundly moving. Tait was to lose his wife and his only son Crauford in 1878, hence the book’s title.
In 1859 at the instigation of Queen Victoria, Tait was appointed Bishop of London. He deprecated the publication of Essays and Reviews in 1860, and sought to dampen down the controversy surrounding Bishop John Colenso of Natal’s Biblical teaching. Tait opposed the spread of Anglo-Catholicism in London, later describing sacramental confession as ‘a most serious error.’
In 1868, after more string-pulling by Queen Victoria, Tait became Archbishop of Canterbury. He made the best of Gladstone’s disestablishment of the Irish Church in 1869-71, failed to qualify or end the use of the Athanasian Creed in 1872, and convoked the second Lambeth Conference in 1878. He died in office on 3 December 1882.
Tait valued the Church of England’s links with the State and was emphatically Protestant in outlook, referring to ‘our noble Reformed Church.’ He was generous and broad-minded as far as most Anglicans, Presbyterians and Nonconformists were concerned, but regarded Roman Catholicism as erroneous. Tait supported the 1874 Public Worship Regulation Act, one unforeseen consequence of which was the imprisonment of several Anglo-Catholic priests for ritualistic offences.
Witheridge suggests that Tait did not really understand Anglo-Catholicism. I think this is true up to a point. Tait could not fathom a religious outlook that used ceremony and colour to approach the mystical. He did, however, appreciate the hard work of many Anglo-Catholic priests, especially in the slums.
On another level, I wonder whether Tait did in fact understand Anglo-Catholicism only too well. He would have grasped that Anglo-Catholicism involved the repudiation of much of the Reformation and Protestantism (which Tait viewed as God-inspired national deliverance from Roman error); the belief that insofar as Christ may be said to have willed a Church, the Lord willed it to be a Catholic one; and the belief that through Divine Providence, the Church of England had passed through the vicissitudes of the Reformation with its essential Catholicism intact. There was never a meeting of minds.
I have a couple of concerns about In the Shadow of Death. The first is a minor point. Witheridge frequently refers to ‘high church’. To my mind, ‘high church’ has become a subjective, ambiguous term (rather like ‘mission’ in our own times) that means different things to different people, and thus is of limited utility. The many and varied gradations of mid-Victorian Anglican churchmanship are notoriously difficult to categorise. I would use ‘high church’ to refer to pre-Tractarian high churchmen (sometimes called ‘high and dry’), but, for the avoidance of confusion, I would tend mostly to refer to second and third generation followers of the Catholic Revival as ‘ritualists’ or ‘Anglo-Catholics’.
More significantly, I am not entirely persuaded by some of Witheridge’s claims about Tait: ‘Not since William Laud in the seventeenth century had a Primate of All England possessed a better understanding of his office, or exercised a more active and statesmanlike role in Parliament and in the nation. So too in the Church, where Tait was not content to be an ecclesiastical figurehead like many archbishops before him.’ I think such an assertion should be qualified a little, because one never knows what future research may reveal about earlier archbishops, or possibly about Tait himself. Tait certainly had his fair share of problems, but I wonder whether some of his predecessors who had to grapple, for example, with the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, may not turn out to have been equally active and successful, albeit in different conditions and circumstances.
These concerns apart, In the Shadow of Death is a well-researched and highly readable book. John Witheridge has rescued Archbishop Tait’s reputation from obscurity. One might not always agree with Tait’s views or methods, but In the Shadow of Death reveals him to have been a devout, hard-working and conscientious archbishop.
The Community of Reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the Church of St Alphege, Southwark
Michael Yelton’s reputation as one of the foremost chroniclers of the highways and byways of Anglo-Catholicism is well known and richly deserved. His latest book, published by the Anglo-Catholic History Society, is a history of the Community of Reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (CRJBS); and the parish in which they were founded and did most of their work, St Alphege, Lancaster Street, Southwark.
It is hard to imagine now that the back streets of Southwark once formed a biretta belt of some size and splendour. At the vanguard of this was St Alphege’s Church, built in 1880-82, and described decades later by John Betjeman as being ‘furnished in the Belgian taste. Perhaps the most convincing Roman Catholic interior in the Church of England’.
The driving force behind the new church was Fr Alfred Goulden, who had been appointed to the new mission district of St Alphege in 1872. He had already helped to found the Order of Reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, originally intended to be a three-fold mixed order, designed to promote devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and Eucharistic practice within the Church of England. Within this fledgling Order, the first meeting of the Sisters took place on 30th July 1869. CRJBS were to take this date as their foundation day, though Yelton argues that the Community as it became known was not founded then in any strict sense. Perhaps 22 February 1873 is a more accurate date. This was the date when the first two sisters, by now living in the parish of St Alphege under the direction of Fr Goulden, took permanent vows. The new sisterhood was to be the only element of the Order of Reparation which survived, a reality which was only fully acknowledged as late as 1910, when the sisterhood adopted the familiar name and initials of CRJBS. The Community was to remain connected with St Alphege’s for over a century.
Perhaps surprisingly for a sisterhood with such an uncompromisingly pious dedication, the life of CRJBS was always a mixture of the contemplative and the active, ‘the union of the life of Martha with that of Mary’, in the words of Fr Goulden. Work was always important – and took the Community to a number of locations across London and the south-east. Although prayer before the Reserved Sacrament was always an important part of daily life (as the handsome cover photo shows), the Community was never minded to become entirely enclosed, nor large enough for a sub-division into contemplative and active congregations, as happened at Ascot Priory. Equally, the members of CRJBS were never divided into choir and lay sisters. As this was frequently the manifestation of class distinctions rather than anything more theologically profound, this may in itself tell us something important about the nature of CRJBS.
As already mentioned, CRJBS was never a large community – 27 professed members at its largest, in 1944. As was the case with many communities, decline set in not long after that, though it took decades for the inevitable consequences to become clear. As it transpired, the last permanent profession was in 1955. In 1979, it was agreed that the remaining sisters would move to Clewer, and live alongside the Community of St John the Baptist, who had helped in the formation of the first sisters of CRJBS a little over a century earlier. By 1995, one CRJBS sister remained. She was clear that the community was no longer needed, ‘because the centrality of the communion service had by then been established in the Church of England’. She died on 6th January 2006, and the life of another Anglican religious community came to an end. St Alphege’s Church building closed in 1981, was declared redundant in 1987, and was demolished in 1991. Worship continued in the church hall (which still stands) until 2010.
Yelton’s book is a practical history of St Alphege’s Church and CRJBS – what happened, and when, and why. It would be fascinating to know more about the interior life of CRJBS, insofar as that could be discovered through surviving correspondence, chapter minutes, the community’s Rule, and so on. That might, perhaps, be the subject of a further volume?
Profile Books, 2022
Were I not such a great admirer of Alan Bennett, not least the diaries that he has published for the past several years, I might be minded to say that, with this latest publication, House Arrest: Pandemic Diaries he is having a laugh. It is the slimmest of slim volumes (12×19 cms: 45 pp of text: 10 blank pages: Faber, £6.99). Although, at 85, he suffers from arthritis and can no longer ride a bicycle, he remains eagle-eyed and still has a sharp ear, despite the need for a hearing aid, and waspish wit. Also, his trips down memory lane, unavoidable as we age and, with particular force during lockdown when there was ample opportunity to look back, provide enjoyment. Graham Greene does not emerge well; Coral Browne is as triumphant as ever. Even a brief walk down memory lane with Alan Bennett has its rewards. Of course, it is recommended reading. We diarists have to stick together.
Faber & Faber, 2022
The appearance of any poet’s ‘selected’ works is usually worth a look as it implies expert hands, such as their biographer or an academic, giving a good overview of their output. Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) published three such selections during his lifetime but had apparently always wanted to produce an anthology of his full highlights and was discussing it with his editor and confidants before he died. The resultant volume, 100 Poems, first appeared in 2018 and is now available in paperback, ‘representing the entire sweep of his career, from first collection to last’ as he wished, and in the words of his daughter, Catherine, who writes a ‘Family Note’ introducing the volume. Because it was his family who took up this task, bringing together Heaney’s most famous and admired pieces, along with their own personal choices which mean something to them. It is therefore a deeply affectionate and private memorial to the man who was once the best-known poet in the world; in 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
All the familiar Heaney themes are here: nature, Ireland, family, faith. Any Irish writer of note these past 100 years has had to tread the fine line between politics, culture and history. Heaney did that with great pathos and stature. The Troubles are referred to here – not frequently but never absent – such as ‘The Strand at Lough Beg’ and a family member shot: ‘And gather up cold handfuls of the dew / To wash you, cousin. I dab you clean with moss’. The poem ‘Two Lorries’ masterfully contrasts his mother’s romantic trips to the cinema in Magherafelt with a coalman, his own childhood memories of meeting her there, and later ‘a lorry / …with a payload / that will blow the bus station to dust and ashes’. Some pieces are brief yet insightful (‘The Conway Stewart’ about buying a fountain pen), others like something from a photo album (‘A Sofa in the Forties’), and then his poetic virtuosity with lines like ‘Turning to swim on your back, / Each silent, thigh-shaking kick / Retilting the light, / Heaving the cool at your neck’ (‘The Otter’).
Catherine Heaney comments it is ‘a different selection from the one Dad might have made… Yet we hope that everyone will find something here to cherish or be surprised by… a reminder of the power and vitality of his work’. It is certainly that, and more.
Japan: Courts and Culture
The Queen’s Gallery, London
Until 26 February, 2023
‘Kamikaze Girls’ is a 2004 J-pop film featuring a yanki (ie female juvenile delinquent) and a Lolita (ie cute girl who dresses in a take on Victorian frilly costumes, also referencing Marie Antoinette and the Rococo). During the recent Beatrix Potter exhibition at the V and A young Japanese women in full Lolita gear often attended the museum on Saturday afternoons. Sometimes they posed besides the Lolita costume on permanent display in the Toshiba Japanese Gallery.
The costumes and the attitudes of the film show how for young Japanese women fashion is a symbol of breaking free from the constraints of traditional Japanese society. ‘Memories of Matsuko’ (2008) is the companion piece to ‘Kamikaze Girls’ and shows what the Lolitas are rebelling against. (Both films are excellent, ‘Memories of Matsuko’ is one of the great cinematic tragedies).
There are no Lolitas at the Queen’s Gallery, which features Japanese arts and crafts from the first diplomatic presents given in James 1st’s reign to the 1920s (and one later gift to Her Majesty). They represent the stifling conformist Japan which was so long closed to the West and against which the Kamikaze girls rebelled. And the gifts on show are what we might expect: swords, armour, daggers, pottery, lacquerware. If it all feels a little G&S Mikado, there’s also photos of various royals doing the full Titi-pu.
Japanese gear first became fashionable in the West in the seventeenth century. Fashionable but not often understood. Still, Japanese traders were happy to cater for the crude Western take on their country. That included, above all, the European habit of adding Frenchified gold embellishment to Japanese wares so that they fitted in with contemporary Western interiors. Against that habit, Queen Mary stands out as a collector who didn’t need to add gold to carefully balanced, restrained ceramics. And George IV stands out as a collector who had to add gold to everything. The worst bling on show is his, nowhere more so than a marvellous lacquered rice bowl of refined craftsmanship and design, breathtakingly beautiful except that it is smothered in gilt European mounts. The curators, who maintain an admirable restraint in their commentary on royal crassness, all but give way at this item.
Fortunately, there’s not much which need titivate the swords on show, one of the most magnificent of which is a Field Marshall’s sword, given to George V in 1918, the only one of its kind outside of Japan. The blade is a copy of the earliest known sword design and it comes in a box of restrained gorgeousness.
Alongside the official gifts, which are at least rich, there are also knick-knacks collected by the Royal family on trips to Japan. The term is used advisedly, since the Japanese quickly set up tourist traps to sell curios to visiting Westerners. Of course, there were Western visitors to Japan and Western traders whose Japonisme was much more sophisticated. But there’s none of the woodcuts here with which Manet decorated his paintings of Zola and Olympia. And the screens beloved of Whistler find only a third-rate echo in this show.
Now it may be that the prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige were too cheap and lower class to be diplomatic gifts. And there was a move in late nineteenth century Japan towards more Western styles and techniques. But it’s a pity there is little at the Palace of the tradition of restrained high quality craftsmanship and design (other than the swords). Indeed, the only example in the show of the wabi-sabi æstheteic of imperfection is a vessel by Hamada Shöji given to Her Majesty in 1975. The gift references the close working ties between Shöji and Bernard Leach. It is an example of a more nuanced relationship that has grown between Great Britain and Japan.
The earlier imbalance in Japan’s relations with the West is shown in the way the Imperial family westernised its appearance. In England, Japanese clothes were for dressing up. In Japan, Western cloths, even golfing clothes, became symbols of modernity (though is it possible that Edward VIII as Prince of Wales convinced the Japanese military of the weakness of the British Empire?). Today’s Lolita craze is the other side of the Hamada Shöji gift. It is a symbol of Japan throwing off a slavish following of Western culture and treating us, as we have treated the Japanese, as an excuse for fantasy.
Readers who are interested in Japanese culture but don’t want to cross the world might go to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Readers who are interested in gift-giving between imperial courts as a reflection of cultural interaction or what to serve at a state banquet for the Crown Prince of Japan (Saumon Nelson & Cotelettes D’Agneau à l’Orientale) will find an excellently presented show at the Queen’s Gallery.