Wednesday, 25 November 2015

'Sing for the morning's joy, Cecilia, sing"

November - from Enid Chadwick's  'My Book of the Church's Year' 
- now reprinted in paperback [welcome news from the NLM here]

No masses for St Cecilia this year, as her feast day fell on a Sunday. 
Here, instead, is a belated musical offering - Herbert Howells' miniature masterpiece of a carol to the saint, setting words (below) by Ursula Vaughan-Williams, the poet and second wife of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams - sung here by the Choir of New College Oxford directed by Edward Higginbottom with David Burchell, organ

Sing for the morning's joy, Cecilia, sing,
in words of youth and praises of the Spring,
walk the bright colonnades by fountains' spray,
and sing as sunlight fills the waking day;
till angels, voyaging in upper air,
pause on a wing and gather the clear sound
into celestial joy, wound and unwound,
a silver chain, or golden as your hair.

Sing for your loves of heaven and of earth,
in words of music, and each word a truth;
marriage of heart and longings that aspire,
a bond of roses, and a ring of fire.
Your summertime grows short and fades away,
terror must gather to a martyr's death;
but never tremble, the last indrawn breath
remembers music as an echo may.

Through the cold aftermath of centuries,
Cecilia's music dances in the skies;
lend us a fragment of the immortal air,
that with your choiring angels we may share,
a word to light us thro' time-fettered night,
water of life, or rose of paradise,
so from the earth another song shall rise
to meet your own in heaven's long delight.

Ursula Vaughan Williams (1911-2007)

Monday, 23 November 2015

The place of 'honest' doubt ....

Archbishop Justin Welby has attracted quite a bit of flak on social media and in the blogosphere for admitting in the wake of the Islamist terror attacks in Paris, that he wondered where God was amongst all the violence and murder [here]
My first thought was to think, 'there's nothing to see here, move along' - after all, this is the  reaction we should expect from our religious leaders, who are only trying to get alongside the reaction of the ordinary, not-particularly-religious person in the street when confronted with events which rightly shock us all to the core.

But, on reflection, although I wouldn't wish to go along with some of the more intemperate criticisms of his comments, I'm not sure the Archbishop really meant to say what he said at all - his remarks show very clearly that his 'doubts' were hardly significant, and that his faith had survived intact, even if it had experienced a very momentary blip. So why say what he did?
 I refuse - even given the recent catastrophic decline in theological education - to believe an Archbishop of Canterbury (even if only ordained deacon in 1992) could lack a sufficiently adequate theological grounding to make at least some sense of the problem of evil.  
William Temple, who afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury in a more serious age, wrote in a letter to (later Msgr) Ronald Knox; "I am not a spiritual doctor trying to see how much Jones can swallow and keep down; I am more respectable than that; I am Jones himself asking what there is to eat."
I can't help but wonder about the intellectual honesty of some members of  our contemporary hierarchy - aren't they just pretending to be 'Jones,' because that's the acceptable thing to do in a not so respectable age of emotional manipulation? 
There's an acknowledged place for honest doubt; I'm not sure there's a place for doubt as ecclesiastical 'spin'...


A rather good short video on prayer, 'Just Pray,'  from the Church of England, has been banned from cinemas by the agency Digital Cinema Media who stated "... some advertisements - unintentionally or otherwise - could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith."
Reactions are coming in thick and fast, including this rather good response from the Bishop of Sheffield and a contribution from the Prime Minister [here] who clearly is getting better Magic FM reception in the Chilterns than he has of late .... 

The 'offending' video: 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In an astonishing example of crass mistiming - if that's all it was: I'm not entirely convinced - the BBC decided to broadcast a piece of one-sided polemic against the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday morning's 'A Point of View' [here
Somehow the pressing need for radical reform of one of Christianity's traditions isn't exactly at the top of the world's agenda right now .... if you see what I mean ...
Perhaps, after a couple of outstanding and gently reasonable contributions from Roger Scruton, the programmers thought it was high time, in the interests of 'balance,' to return to something stridently imbecilic .


I've just taken delivery of our parish copies of the Winter edition of 'Together - The Voice of  Catholic Anglicans'' - always a welcome arrival on the doorstep.
On the front page (below) is a large photograph of a cork shooting out of a champagne bottle in celebration of the heartening news that the Catholic Group on the Church of England's General Synod has increased its strength in the recent elections.
Were there any comparable source of information available for us traditionalists in the little side show called The Church in Wales (which there now isn't - to our own continuing shame), presumably we would have a picture of a bottle of hemlock with appropriate instructions from the Bench of Bishops ...

Saturday, 21 November 2015

O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem ...

Herbert Howells' exquisite and hauntingly beautiful setting of verses from Psalm 122 - the Choir of New College, Oxford, directed by Edward Higginbottom. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

'De profundis clamavi ad te Domine' - our appalling neglect of the Syrian Christian refugees

'If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss *
 O Lord, who may abide it?'

Prompted by many things, but most particularly by the plight of the exiled Syrian Christians, for whom, it would seem - even now, even after the atrocities in Paris, no one will lift a finger to help ... [here]
Forced to avoid refugee camps both in the Middle East and Europe because of a real and justified fear of persecution by their more fundamentalist Muslim fellow refugees [here], ignored by the governments of the West [here]  in order to promote and foster an electorally convenient but socially fragile narrative of stability at home, what will their fate be, and how will history - and a greater tribunal still - judge us for their neglect? 
ISIS /ISIL still refers to the countries of the West as 'Crusaders:  not so, while we may certainly deplore their later history, particularly with regard to Byzantium,  the Crusades were motivated - at least at the very beginning - by a sense of honour and the chivalric obligation to rescue the Christians of the Holy Land who had fallen under the oppressive domination of Islamic invaders from the deserts of Arabia .... 
In reality, of course, they flatter us by the comparison because, whereas the crusaders were at least true to their beliefs, the culture of the democratic West, formed over the centuries by its developing Christian humanist and enlightenment heritage of the rule of law and freedom of speech and expression, has been captured by the contemporary intellectually barbarous fashion for relativism and the pathological avoidance of anything which may even hint at the fact that one culture and one way of life may be better and more conducive to human flourishing than another. We fight the conflict of ideas with the Jihadist savages with one hand tied behind our back.

Friday, 6 November 2015

'The winds that would blow' - some Friday traffic

A few interesting items from the blog list this week:

Peter Hitchens takes the Church of England to task for its treatment of the memory of Bishop George Bell [here from 'The Spectator']
It is, of course, difficult, if not impossible, to make an informed comment on this, due to the lack of detail about the allegation, or knowledge of any kind of additional corroborating evidence, being made available by the Church authorities. If an institution really wants to be considered as being beyond reproach, then its processes need to be completely transparent; otherwise the suspicion will remain that this is really about atoning for more recent terrible abuse in the Diocese of Chichester rather than taking responsibility for what may or may not have happened over seventy years ago.

There's a comment on due process and the rule of law from Robert Bolt's film 'A Man for All Seasons'  which needs to be taken to heart, even when we are speaking of the dead and their so easily trashed reputations. In Britain we can point to the recent accusations, some of them demonstrably false,  made against Lords MacAlpine and Brittan and Sir Edward Heath, as illustrating the dangers of making public lurid allegations which are based on inadequate evidence or patently false testimony. In an information age, mud sticks, and the reputations of the dead are permanently tarnished. It's hard to see how the well-being of the living can ever be safeguarded by the needless traducing of the memory of those no longer alive. 'The balance of probability' cited in the statement made about Bishop Bell  falls far short of the required evidentiary test for the living that guilt should be 'beyond reasonable doubt.'  If there are more allegations against Bishop Bell, that fact should be made public.
Some cases, as we know from the monstrous Jimmy Savile scandal, are very much easier to determine due to the huge number of well-attested and consistent allegations that have been made over a long period of time, but in  a culture now so dominated by a demand for 'instant' justice, driven by emotional reactions and subjective feelings, we may be in danger now of inverting the principle Bolt's Thomas More voices so eloquently:
"More:  What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? 
Roper:  I'd cut down every law in England to do that!     
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast– man's laws, not God's– and if you cut them down—and you're just the man to do it—do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake."

Yet more illiberal 'no -platform' nonsense  from Britain's increasingly sensitive undergraduates - this time, intended or not - in defence of 'Islamic State' [here
I used to think that the greatest contemporary danger to the values of civilisation came from militant Islamists themselves; now I'm not so sure: others seem to be doing the work for them ...

We've written before about the 'Benedict Option' [here] as a response to illiberal secularism's attempt to exclude faith - Christian faith in particular, it seems -  from the public square. Here is a post which discusses its application to the Anglican context:
"... The hope of Alasdair MacIntyre at the end of After Virtue is that new Benedictines would construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.” The Benedictine Rule is certainly a starting point for chartering these kinds of communities. Benedict sought to teach those first brothers how to live in community, to cling to their brethren, in a sense, as the means to their own sanctification. As Anglicans, we believe that this can be translated beyond the monastery, particularly to the parish church. But, what happens when Christian community is forced to subsist outside the congregational forms of Christendom? What happens when Christians meet, spontaneously or out of necessity, as naturally in a living room as in a parish church? What happens, when, as is becoming normal today, Christians demand a common life beyond what the parish church can provide?

What is needed is a charter for extra-parochial communities of prayer, life-giving fellowship, and solidarity in the midst of marginalization, a charter for a new rule of life – not for the individual, but for whole multi-generational groupings of Benedictine Option Christians. We need communities oriented towards the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful, communities in which virtue can flourish. Let me put all my cards on the table. I believe that Anglicanism offers just such a charter. We have forms for daily prayer and common intercession, forms for confession, and litanies for ourselves and for the world. We have an emphasis upon the domestic church and family catechesis. We have in our DNA a way for families to join together in their neighborhoods for evening prayer and cookouts, for students to come together for morning prayer and intercession for one another, for baptismal promises to become enfleshed in sacrifice for the sake of our brothers and sisters. In one of the great ironies of Anglicanism, what was intended for the chapel works best in the home! What was intended for the parish church comes to life outside her four walls! Thanks be to God, for we have a goodly heritage... "
We can agree that Anglicanism (and, of course, that itself needs far greater definition)  - in common with the Catholic traditions of Latin and Orthodox Christianity - certainly has the means by which to embrace the Benedict option. Whether in its mainstream forms, rather than in 'leavening' communities within them,  it will ever recognise the necessity is open to more doubt ...


News just in, from the legally established, State (Lutheran) Church of Iceland which may give us some cause for reflection [from Anglican Ink here]
When does a national church designed to proclaim the faith and values of the Gospel to the State, become without question an institution compelled to proclaim the State's values to the nation...?  In Iceland's case the answer seems to be 2015.

And on the wearing of Remembrance poppies... 
In the view of this blog, wearing a poppy is a wholly good, noble and a-political thing to do, and moreover, done in support of a valuable charitable cause. 
But should we all be shamed or coerced into it? Dissenting views from the current herd mentality, of varying credibility, from left and right.
On the whole, it's hard to quarrel with this comment: 
"...As I read these words I see a lighted doorway in a small terraced house on an autumn evening, and a slight man in his twenties, in army uniform, embracing his wife and small children as he sets out on a journey from which he will not return.  It does not seem to me to be an occasion for telling other people what they should feel, think or wear."
Like so much else in these narcissistic days, this essentially manufactured argument is ego- driven and more about signalling one's own virtue than honouring the fallen, or the freedoms for which they fought and died ....

Saturday, 31 October 2015

O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be

For the Eve of All Saints - the anthem by William Harris with words, of course, by Peter Abelard (O quanta qualia) translated by John Mason Neale.

Friday, 30 October 2015

"Ah, see the fair chivalry come"

"Ah, see the fair chivalry come, the companions of Christ!
White horsemen, who ride on white horses, the Knights of God!
They, for their Lord and their Lover who sacrificed all
Save the sweetness of treading where He first trod!
These, thro' the darkness of death, the dominions of night,
Swept, and they woke in white places at morning tide:
They saw with their eyes and sang for joy at the sight,
They saw with their eyes the Eyes of the Crucified.
Now, whithersoever He goeth, with Him they go:
White horsemen, who ride on white horses, Oh, fair to see!
They ride where the rivers of paradise flash and flow,
White horsemen, with Christ their Captain, for ever He!"

'Te Martyrum Candidatus,'  Lionel Johnson (1867-1902)  

Worcester Cathedral Choir · Donald Hunt · Adrian Partington

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

If you're at a loose end in Bristol tonight ...

St George's, Bristol
BOX OFFICE     0845 40 24 001
Kathryn Price cello
Charles Matthews pianoforte
Debussy Sonate pour Violoncelle et Pianoforte
Chopin Nocturne in C# minor, Op Post
Schubert Sonata ‘Arpeggione’
Rachmaninov Sonata in G minor, Op 19
Kathryn Price and Charles Matthews have received widespread international critical acclaim for their long established cello and piano duo, and their double-memorised recital work together.
They return to St. George’s, Bristol, for another memorised programme, including sonatas by Debussy, Schubert and Rachmaninov.

Kathryn Price & Charles Matthews: Cello & Piano Recital

Tuesday 27 October

£18, £5 Students & U18s (plus fees)
£1 administration fee charged per transaction plus £1 card transaction fee and 70p postage where applicable.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Forward in Faith defends the seal of the Confessional

This ought not to be newsworthy, but in a Church which increasingly fails to understand a sacramental view of the world, it is a highly significant and well- argued response. 
"Forward in Faith has published its submission to the Working Party on the Seal of the Confessional, which is charged with assisting the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops in considering whether to recommend amendment of the Canon that says that priests should not reveal what has been disclosed in Confession by a penitent.

Forward in Faith's submission points out that the sacraments belong to the whole Church, of which the Church of England is only part, and that the General Synod therefore does not have the authority to alter them. The obligation of non-disclosure is part of the nature of the Sacrament: it was not created by the Canon. Amending or repealing the Canon would therefore not remove it. We are confident that priests will continue to regard themselves as bound by the Seal of the Confessional, even if this canonical provision is amended or repealed.

We question whether, in any case, the necessity for such a change has been or can be made out.

Such a change would be undesirable and counterproductive. It would discourage people who have committed criminal offences from making their confession, reducing the likelihood of a priest being in a position to counsel them to report themselves to the Police. The time and energy expended in promoting such a controversial piece of legislation could be deployed more profitably in other ways.

Forward in Faith is concerned that many priests receive little or no training for the important ministry of reconciliation, which both the 1662 and Common Worship Ordinals identify as a fundamental aspect of priestly ministry. Such training should emphasize that, where a serious crime is confessed, absolution should be withheld until the penitent has reported him- or herself to the Police.

Forward in Faith understands the defence of the sacraments as part of its purpose, and we shall resist as strongly as we can any attack on the integrity of sacramental Confession.

The submission may be read here."  
[gives a further link to a pdf document] 
Before going on to address the desirability of a change to the Church of England's canons, the response states: 
Is Change Necessary? 
13. Even if it were possible for the General Synod to alter the sacrament by removing the Seal, we do not believe that the necessity for such a change has been or can be made out. 
14. We share the general abhorrence of the crimes against children and vulnerable adults that have given rise to consideration of this issue, and agree that it is essential to ensure that the Church is as safe a place as possible for them and for the Church to do all that it can to promote safeguarding in wider society. But we are not aware of any evidence that amending the proviso to Canon 113 of the Canons of 1603 would have any positive effect on this. 
15. We hope that the Working Group will report on the question of whether there is any evidence that in any specific case breach of the Seal of the Confessional by a priest would have made any difference to the safety of any specific child or vulnerable adult. We are not aware of any. Without such evidence, we suggest, there is no justification for even considering a change that would purport to remove the duty of non-disclosure or seek to impose a duty of disclosure. It would simply be an emotional gesture. 
16. Those of us who have significant experience of hearing confessions are doubtful as to the frequency with which offences against children and vulnerable adults are confessed. We believe this to be very rare indeed.
Read it all, and the footnotes. 
There are already some interesting responses on the 'Thinking Anglicans' website [here]


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Easily wounded sensibilities: thought crime and the defence of free speech

It would seem that the more 'inclusive' and 'diverse' our society becomes, by some strange ironic twist, the less respect we have for true diversity of opinion. 
We seem to want to be protected above all costs from views which may, just possibly, offend us - a fashion unfortunately followed slavishly and sheepishly by certain sections of contemporary Anglicanism. However, unless this trend is opposed and rolled back, it will almost certainly prove the end of those values of rational debate, free speech and assembly we have held most dear for many generations. 
That academic institutions should be in the vanguard of this kind of utter irresponsibility, and tacitly encourage their students to wrap themselves in a cosy blanket of like-mindedness, has been one of the most worrying and indefensible developments of all. If you are too feeble minded to run the risk of being confronted by opinions which may offend you or upset your accepted view of the world, then don't go to university at all. Find something to do with your time which doesn't involve that most upsetting of all activities, being encouraged to think.

But is the tide at long last beginning to turn? Roger Scruton, given a platform on BBC Radio 4, argues that the law on freedom of speech ought to protect those who express heretical views and not be used to shut down debate by means of invented 'phobias.'
"... Free speech is not the cause of the tensions that are growing around us, but the only possible solution to them..." 
Listen to it all here 

And petition mania, the student union at Cardiff University and the Germaine Greer affair -  a report from Wales Online [here]: we know the world has gone completely mad when Germaine Greer (of all people) is accused of being a reactionary...
“We should be as free to doubt the womanhood of Caitlyn Jenner as we are to doubt the divinity of Jesus." Brendan O'Neill at The Spectator [here
"...She has also mocked the whole idea of transphobia. ‘I didn’t know there was such a thing [as transphobia]. Arachnaphobia, yes. Transphobia, no.’ I love that. Because here Greer is using ‘phobia’ in the proper way — not to pathologise moral viewpoints, as the PC do when they brand criticism of gay marriage as ‘homophobia’ or ridicule of Islam as ‘Islamophobia’, but rather to describe an irrational fear, in this case of spiders. The branding of all sorts of moral and religious views as ‘phobias’ is one of the ugliest, most Orwellian trends of our age, so good on Greer for ripping the Mick out of it (that’s hibernophobia, I know)...."
At least it seems [here] that the university authorities at Cardiff are not prepared to bow to censorship and have a higher view of freedom of expression and academic freedom generally than some of those they are trying, in vain, it seems, to teach ... let's hope this is not an isolated example.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Anton Bruckner: Locus Iste

"... And then, in addition to all of this, there is that undeniable quality of spiritual fervor—almost mystical at times—which makes the best of his symphonies seem like more than mere music. Perhaps none of this would have surprised me if I had become acquainted earlier with his sacred music—those austerely polyphonic and luminously lovely motets and masses—but, as it was, I was chastened by the discovery..."

The Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, writing in First Things in 2009 [link here]

Bruckner's 'Locus Iste,' sung by The Sixteen, directed by Harry Christophers

'Locus iste a Deo factus est,
inaestimabile sacramentum,
irreprehensibilis est.'

Thursday, 22 October 2015

'Restoring the Anglican Mind'

For those already familiar with his 2008 book of the same name, Canon Arthur Middleton's address, sent in July in to Fort Worth for the International Catholic Congress of Anglicans, may prove to be of interest in the light of subsequent developments in the Church of England and elsewhere.  
It can be read in full here, but a few excerpts and a video link follow: 
"...The process that has promoted women in the apostolic ministry is a management exercise determined by politically correct ideology and not theological principle and it reduces Holy Order to a functionalism, alters God's plan for Holy Order and ignores our paramount duty to the universal Church. In England the appointment of a Reconciler is part of the management method which according to the ACAS style of settling Trade Union disputes, is to reconcile differing views. But this issue is not about human relations. It is about deeply held theological convictions that are diametrically opposed to the politically correct ideology. There can be no reconciliation.
The vote signifies that the Church of England and where this has happened in elsewhere in other provinces of the Anglican Communion, Anglicanism is not being true to her Anglican mind. She has rejected the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, the historic episcopate, and in other matters of fundamental doctrine and morals this can happen again. She has ignored her own Formularies expressed in Canon A5 of the English Church, the BCP and the Ordinal where Apostolic Order is therein enshrined. She has ignored her membership of the universal Church and has been in a process of creeping schism from it for years. The ecumenical achievements of the past century, including ARCIC, have been destroyed for there has been a total disregard for Christian unity and an unwillingness to take seriously the warnings of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. So what is the point of the Archbishop of Canterbury's words to his ecumenical partners stressing the fact that we need each other and the importance of unity, after an action that has placed an insuperable obstacle in the way of full Communion. Actions speak louder than words...." 
"... It has always been the Anglican claim that in faith and order the Anglican Communion is continuous in identity with the Primitive Church. It is no new Church. Today's contest is between modern liberal ecclesiology and the Anglican mind in a time when the majority of people in the Church and the nation have been brainwashed by the secular mind, which they use to displace the claims of the Anglican mind. It is the presuppositions of this secular mind and its politically correct ideology that is determining the Faith and Order of the Anglican Communion that must be displaced. This is not a matter of politics but a matter of faith and theology. Like the divines of the seventeenth century the way forward is by pursuing the Anglican way back to prescriptive sources by upholding Canon A5 which states that the doctrine of the Anglicanism is grounded in the Holy Scripture and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal...." 
"...The Catholic appeal to authority is partly to the past. It looks back to Holy Scripture, to the doctrinal statements in which the Church has drawn out the meaning of Holy Scripture and which have been accepted as Creeds, to the conciliar decisions which have been authoritatively imposed as binding on the whole Church, to the common teaching of representative divines. The Catholic may not reject anything to which he believes that the Church as a whole is really committed, anything which the whole Church has made part of its permanent life. It may often be a difficult task to determine exactly how far the authority of the Church has gone, whether the decision of an accepted oecumenical council has been so completely a matter of principle that it may not be altered or has been so entirely a detail of only temporary importance that it may well be changed, whether, for instance, any utterance is to be ranked with the affirmation of our Lord's deity at the Council of Nicaea or with the prohibition of kneeling during Eastertide by the same council, whether the concurrent teaching of divines through a long period of time indicates an actual acceptance of the teaching by the Church itself. But, whenever it can be determined that there has been a decision to which the Church as a whole is permanently committed, the acceptance of that decision is obligatory..." 
"... But, besides the appeal to the past, there is also an appeal to the future. The Catholic of necessity looks back to the past; for in the past is the tradition which sustains his belief. But of necessity also he looks forward to the future, to the re-united Church which is to be, and he sees that the past will find its full significance in the development which yet has to come. For the Church's life is greater than that of any one century, or of any particular series of centuries; it is for all time.."
This is a YouTube video of Bishop Keith Ackerman at the Fort Worth Congress - he begins to read the address at 19 minutes 55 seconds :

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Back to the future ...?

In all kinds of ways - theologically, politically, culturally - we seem to be intent on reliving the worst of our relatively recent (and in one case distant) past, the lessons of which we are extremely reluctant to learn.

We'll draw a veil over the ongoing vicissitudes of the British Labour Party, now in the hands of the quasi-Trotskyist hard left  from the 1970s and 1980s. One would need to be heavily into substance abuse to have dreamt this one up. 
But the less responsible and electable the opposition, the less responsible and socially inclusive the policies of the government ...

And Canada's electorate reverts to hereditary Trudeauism...  involving a retreat from international responsibility, more restrictions on free speech and the legalisation of marijuana. As the commentator below has said, 'That's what Canada needs, more stoners ..."
Comment here from Mark Steyn

That self-confessed admirer of iconoclasm, Canon Giles Fraser, wants the rural Church to emulate the glory days of the Beeching Axe (for non British readers, the wholesale destruction of the railway network in the 1960s)
Some interesting responses here
"Fraser's weakness is not solely because of the pragmatic consequences of closing churches in rural areas.  The weakness is much more significant than this. It is profoundly theological.  Like iconoclasts across the centuries, his argument betrays a discomfort with matter, a desire to separate the 'spiritual heart' of faith from our flesh and blood, material reality.  Which, as Nicaea II asserted, is to deny the fulness of the Incarnation.Closing churches echoes a culture which "has lost all sense of ... place", for whom the sacramentality of place and the material is (at best) difficult to envisage.  Maintaining church buildings, by contrast, is a proclamation of sacramentality, of encounter in this place in its very physicality - whether inner city, suburb or village. As Inge reminds us, to say that this building has sacramental significance and meaning is to affirm the significance and meaning of all places, of all that is material:The existence of such holy places should facilitate a sacramental perception and serve as a reminder that all time and place belong to God in Christ - the part is set aside on behalf of, rather than instead of, the whole.And it is this which is lost when iconoclasts have their way.  In destroying icons, disfiguring statues or closing churches, they deny the sacramentality not just of the part, but of the whole." 
It's not for me to comment, but, depending upon whom one reads,  the Vatican's  current Synod on the family is proving a difficult test for the unity of the Latin Church, some of whose bishops are  seemingly, in the pontificate of Pope Francis, trying to revisit the 'spirit of Vatican II' [here]

 Europe seems to want to return to a much earlier epoch, before even both the Spanish Reconquista and Charles Martel. Can the continent's civic and cultural values survive in the age of globalisation and mass migration? 
"...What is Europe? It is Greece not Persia; Rome not Carthage; Christendom not the caliphate. These distinctions are fundamental. To say that Europe is a civilization apart is not to say it is better or worse. It is merely to say: This is us and that is you. Nor is it to say that Europe ought to be a closed civilization. It merely needs to be one that doesn’t dissolve on contact with the strangers it takes into its midst...."  [here
I can't help thinking that if the Devil were to appear in a contemporary vision, he would don the guise of an aging baby-boomer, wearing blue jeans, sporting a CND badge, clutching his copy of the collected works of Gramsci and smoking a joint ... and, of course, late for his well- paid job at the BBC, or one of our older universities. 

'Vintage' is all the rage these days, even among the fallen angels... 

Monday, 19 October 2015

Syria: bishops and politicians

Sometimes it is rather difficult to tell bishops and politicians apart.
The letter written by eighty-four of the bishops of the Church of England [here], leaked, we are told, out of pent-up frustration with a lack of response from the British Government, has one significant flaw in that its major premise - that Britain should take in fifty thousand Syrian refugees - seems not to be supported by the Christian Churches in Syria [here]
One might think that bishops would be more vocally concerned with the lamentable lack of concern shown by the governments of the West towards the suffering of the region's Christian minorities, a policy which has descended into farce, were it not so tragic, with the support from the U.S and Britain for 'moderate Islamists' in Syria, some of whom are affiliated to .... yes, Al-Qaeda. Presumably, a 'moderate Islamist group' will forgo the barbaric pleasure of burning down churches and beheading our brothers and sisters in the faith for the lesser and more constitutional thrill of closing down places of Christian worship and imprisoning 'infidels' on trumped up charges of 'blasphemy.'
But the bishops, although laudably voicing a concern for compassion and hospitality, have in their very curiously-worded letter,  given the clear impression of being concerned more with the plight of economic migrants than the re-establishment of peace and security and the support of brutally persecuted ancient Christian communities in the countries our governments have naively done so much to destabilise. In this regard they are, unsurprisingly to many of us, merely displaying their liberal-left secular attitudes. To use the phrase 'moral grandstanding' would be unkind, but not wholly inaccurate - we have a wholly appropriate college of bishops for the age of social media.

And how do we best deal with the undoubtedly unrepresentative but nevertheless growing threat of home-grown Islamic extremism? The Government's latest proposals are examined [here] by Douglas Murray, who has serious concerns about their possible effect: once again we are betrayed by our prevailing culture's genuflection to the disturbed and inverted values of triumphant social marxism. 
"... But the second thing that hasn’t worked in Britain in recent years is that government hasn’t managed to do those things that government should do. Not least in failing to use laws that already exist. For instance it is a crime to belong to a proscribed organisation. But this law has only been used on a couple of occasions, and it is demonstrably the case that there are people wandering around our streets who are well-known members of very-much banned organisations. Likewise it seems clear to me that while you may not imprison everybody who preaches against the state, there is no clear reason why we as a nation should pay people benefits to preach against the state. Most of the prominent hate preachers in recent years have been living off benefits and have not, to the best of my knowledge, been told that if they don’t get a job then the benefits will stop. If government wonders what really pisses people off – this is a very good encapsulation. 
This should be the simplest and most obvious idea imaginable: don’t give money to people who want to destroy you. But the government hasn’t succeeded in dealing with such people, and it isn’t clear that this new strategy will get them any closer. If some crazed Islamist preacher still gets all his expenses and bills paid for by the state then it’s a bit rich for the government to lecture people about who they should or should not have to speak in their events spaces. 
This is obviously an area of some difficultly which is why successive governments have struggled about in it. But it is a disturbing thing that when a problem arises it is so often free speech which is leant on rather than anything else. Why should the existence of crazy preachers treading just within the law cause the bar to be lowered on what constitutes illegal speech, or speech which attracts the attention of government? Particularly when we as a society are so obviously failing to meet such people with the laws which are already in place and the standards any sane society would try to apply. If the government wants decent laws to tackle the Islamists they could do far worse than revisiting and reviving our treason and sedition laws. These are laws which most states have had at some point, are tools which any state should have at its disposal if they want to survive and are obviously the area around which many of the people who are of concern to the government are moving. But instead it is speech and expression which is being leant upon. 
I predict that these disruption orders will have several effects. The first is the risk that they will trample over precisely the liberties our society needs to be most rigorously defending, scoring an own goal our society could do without. The second is that they will almost certainly end up restricting the speech of people not yet considered..."

Friday, 16 October 2015

'A Mickey Mouse atrocity' - free speech .... anyone?

For anyone who is at all concerned at the threat to freedom of speech and expression in the societies which gave birth to them, here are two speeches given at "The Danish Muhammad Cartoon Crisis In Retrospect" Conference, hosted by The Danish Free Press Society, Trykkefrihedsselskabet, in September. The first is given by Douglas Murray, the second by Mark Steyn. They are accessible and entertaining enough to be worth hearing in full, especially by those who believe, as many now seem to accept,  that - in the context of freedom of speech -  it is possible to be 'a little bit pregnant.'...  as it were.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Ave Maris Stella

For today's feast of the Queenship of Mary, the Ave Maris Stella from Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610.
Performed by the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner:

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

"Therefore my very dear brothers, preserve peace among you, and beware of offending each other, whether by deed or word or any gesture whatever, lest someone, provoked and surprised by passion in a moment of weakness, should be constrained to invoke God against those who injured or saddened him, and impetuously cry out this grave accusation: "My mother's sons turned their anger on me." For those who sin against a brother sin against Christ who said: "In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me." 
Nor is it enough to avoid only the more serious offences, for example, public insult and abuse or the venomous slander in secret. It is not enough, I say, to guard one's tongue from these and similar kinds of nastiness; even slight offences must be avoided, if anything may be termed slight that is directed against a brother for the purpose of hurting him, since merely to be angry with one's brother makes one liable to the judgment of God. And justly so. Because what you regard as slight, and therefore commit with all the more ease, will be seen in a different light by another, just as a man looking at the outward appearance and judging according to the outward appearance, is prepared to think a splinter to be a plank, and a spark a blazing fire.
The love which believes all things is not the gift of all men. A man's heart and thoughts are more prone to suspect evil than to believe good, especially when the obligation of silence does not permit you, whose conduct is in question, to defend yourself, nor him who suspects you to lay bare the wound from which he suffers, that it might be healed. And so he endures the agony, grieving in his heart, till he succumbs from the secret and deadly wound, totally immersed in anger and bitterness, his mind a whirl of unvoiced thoughts on the injury he has received. He cannot pray, he cannot read, nor meditate on anything holy or spiritual. And while this soul for whom Christ died is cut off from the vital influence of the Spirit, and goes to its death through lack of the nourishment it needs, what, I ask, are the thoughts of your own mind in the meantime? What can you find in prayer, or in any work you do, when Christ is sorrowfully crying out against you from the heart of your brother whom you have embittered, saying: "My mother's son is fighting against me, he who enjoyed my meals with me has filled me with bitterness." 
St Bernard of Clairvaux: from Sermon 29 on the Song of Songs

Jesu dulcis memoria, words attributed to St Bernard, a setting (also controversially) attributed to Tomas Luis de Victoria, sung here by the Cambridge Singers 

And an interesting recording of Thomas Merton OCSO speaking on the subject of love in the theology of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux:

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Ave Dulcissima Maria

For Assumptiontide, another hearing for Morten Lauridsen's Ave Dulcissima Maria, sung by the lay clerks of New College, Oxford, under the direction of Edward Higginbottom:

Monday, 17 August 2015

Mid-August - the silly season is with us

So once again the British Summer fails to live up to our ever unrealistic expectations - 'underperforms' we should probably say in this triumphant age of ecclesiastical admin speak.
If there is one, this - Assumptiontide in more civilised times - is probably the official start of the 'silly season,' although we would have to say once again that, in the world in which we are forced to live much of the time, the silly season goes on for twelve months without respite:

The British Labour Party, not that long ago posing as the United Kingdom's natural party of government, but now in the throes of one of the left's periodic, post-defeat, fits of 'forget trying to win elections, let's go for ideological purity at all costs' (and it could be a very high cost) seems about to elect the pale shade of Tony Benn as its leader. Not that this observer didn't cease to care long ago about Labour in any of its manifestations, but a representative democracy worth living in needs an active, responsible - and electable - opposition party to preserve its national life from stagnation or worse. Those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 80s could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu, tinged with despair at the contemporary tendency to despise the lessons of even the recent past...

But, as they say, mankind seems doomed to repeat the errors of the past, although the pendulum does seems to swing faster than ever these days. According to Peter Mullen [here] Pope Francis has lost it. * We should be a little wary of attaching too much importance to the obiter dicta of one who just can't help speaking off the cuff, or to the journalistic translations of what, in fact,  he does say.  Yet, to put it another way, on all kinds of levels the days of Pope Benedict seem almost impossibly long ago ...    

WATCH, increasingly the Campaign for Real Paganism, [see the last posting here]  continues its relentless harrying of the embattled orthodox enclaves within the Church of England, this time on the subject of the passing and maintenance of the resolutions in multi-church benefices - thanks, again to Sir Philip Mawer,  so far to little avail.  A response from Forward in Faith [here]

And the BBC - what can one say about the dear old BBC which has not already been said so many times before here and elsewhere? The Corporation really seems (like other institutions we could, but won't name today)  to be hell bent on alienating its most natural and loyal supporters. But I'll leave it to Peter Hitchens to conclude this short dog-day posting: 
"...On most Sunday mornings I swim up to consciousness while listening to BBC Radio 4. The thing that forces me into full wakefulness is an almost comically correct programme called, with great wit and originality,  ‘The Sunday Programme’ . This hour is supposed to be about religion. But whenever I concentrate it always seems to be mainly about sex – sexual abuse by priests and leaders of religions of almost all denominations, or the travails of overt homosexuals who insist on adhering to, or seeking to be ministers in, churches which disapprove of overt homosexuality. Yesterday was no exception to this rule, so reliable that is actually comical...." [here]
The only thing he has left out is that the 'Sunday Programme', more often than not these days, should reconsider a change of name (and positioning in the weekly schedules?) to 'Friday'...

Finally, a photo which sums up the summer so far - or maybe the entire year ....

'Je suis Cecil!'

* Based on a spoof as many have suspected: the difficulty is that the present Holy Father's profile in the secular media (not his fault, exactly) is such that many (previously incredible) reports now seem so believable to many ... the silly season, indeed.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

WATCH your backs - they really are hunting you.

The Revd Dr Peter Mullen has a point [here] : the instruments set up to ensure the 'mutual flourishing' of the warring factions of the Church of England can be a double-edged sword. Unredeemed human nature being what it is, even, one remarks ironically, in the Church,  it seems to be an iron law that majorities, even those smugly ensconced in their own liberalism, will seek to ride roughshod over those who dare to challenge their view of the world. 
Sir Philip Mawer's first report can be read here. The report contains some very good points, if at times it panders to the prevailing subjectivism of 'feelings' and perceived 'hurt.'
This time the safeguards have been effective, although I cannot be alone in thinking that the stated reasons for upholding 'orthodox' chrism masses somewhat undermine their essential purpose. 

But traditional believers within the Church of England should not feel too vindicated or that their future is secured when there remain those whose very raison d'etre is the persecution and extinction of orthodoxy in all its manifestations. The only available Anglican alternative - the results of the triumph of contemporary liberal confusion -  is all too visible among the beleaguered traditionalists across the Severn, to whose aid, their brothers and sisters in the Church of England, for reasons of  the byzantine workings of Anglican Communion politics and the inevitable hierarchical bullying consequent upon them, seem, sadly - if understandably - so reluctant to come.

Given recent news, it's something of an irony that C.S. Lewis' Aslan was a lion ....
The problem with such nebulous yet culturally and politically loaded concepts as 'diversity' and 'equality,' of course, is that they mean precisely what their advocates want them to mean; for some, they clearly involve theological big game hunting. Make no mistake: the quarry is the God of the Catholic Creeds and of the Apostolic tradition.