Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Lord is My Shepherd

For 'Good Shepherd Sunday,' an English version of Dvorak's setting of verses from Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd' (Hospodin jest muj pastyr): a recording from 1969 by Guildford Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Barry Rose.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

What if ....

The 'what ifs' of history are a perennial source of fascination, a realm in which we can allow our imaginations to roam free and imagine only the best of possible outcomes.

The Catholic Herald is the latest to have a stab at this with Dominic Selwood's nostalgic  article, 'What Catholic England would look like today.' [here
It's a beguiling picture for many of us and, undoubtedly, the artistic, cultural, architectural and ecclesiastical   heritage of England and Wales would have been greatly enriched had the tragic iconoclasm and theological negation of the sixteenth century not taken place. 
Of course, one might also, with the Anglo-Catholic romantics of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, speculate about the possibility of Henry VIII's outliving his son, Edward, and frustrating the influence of those 'continental' reformers who were to have such a destructive influence over our culture and our Church. 
What if Queen Mary Tudor and Cardinal Pole had lived longer and had listened to wiser counsels?
We could continue our flight of fancy by imagining the successful result of the putative re-union between Rome and Canterbury under King Charles I, in which certain 'reformation' insights were left intact whilst restoring the fractured link with the Apostolic See of Rome.
And, much closer to our own time, we could even consider a successful conclusion to the 'ARCIC' dialogue - but let's not go there, the wounds are far too recent.

And yet .... France, the eldest daughter of the Church, was scarred by its own religious wars in the same period, and both France herself in the late eighteenth century, and Spain, the home of the Catholic Monarchs,  in the twentieth, experienced bloody atheistic revolutions and civil war which the absence of  a triumphant religious reformation did nothing to prevent. Who can calculate the human consequences of what is, compared to what might have been?

History above all is a done deal, who can say what could have happened? What if Byzantium had never fallen to the Ottoman Turks? Now there's a thought ....

Miniatur (einer Seelenreise)

Something a little different - 'Miniatur (einer Seelenreise)' : Markus Stockhausen
Performed here by the composer and the Twelve Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the Lucerne Festival in the summer of 2011

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Mid-week blues

A report here from France 24 about a foiled Islamist terror attack on Christian churches in Paris (indications at present seem to be of a rogue 'radicalised' individual with possible Syrian back-up rather than a local network ) 
"French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday said “terrorists are targeting France to divide us” but that the country was “determined to stay united”.
Valls visited two churches in Villejuif that were the apparent focus of the foiled plot. He said the suspect planned to target "the Christians, the Catholics of France".
"To target a church is to target a symbol of France, the very essence of France," the prime minister said, adding that this was “the first time” Christians were specifically targeted by suspected jihadists in France.
Valls said his government would take appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of worshippers and church visitors.
“France has an exceptional Christian heritage – its cathedrals, churches and chapels attract tourists and pilgrims,” he said. “This heritage must be protected but also remain open.”
Word of mouth reports emanating from the last meeting of the Church in Wales' Governing Body  have hinted at more than the usual ghastly treatment meted out to those possessing anything approaching traditional views.  They seem to be confirmed by this report from Ancient Briton.
It's instructive, too, that what seems to excite many of the clergy representatives on that august synod is a potential hit to their bank accounts, rather than the ever-accelerating retreat from orthodoxy and apostolicity...
As for Wales now being described theologically (in a throw-away line from the commentators of Anglican Unscripted) as numbered among "the hard left," we should possibly avoid the tombs of previous Welsh diocesans unless we are the possessors of a firm sense of balance and a set of industrial earmuffs.
Wales, the ecclesial equivalent of Orwell's Airstrip One in a world perpetually at war .... ironically, no female bishops appointed yet, however ....

Fr John Hunwicke of the Ordinariate has a typically (and waspishly) erudite piece about the hasty evolution of the modern Roman rite's 'Hippolytan' Eucharistic Prayer II, un"oeuvre d’un trio de maniaques”... [here]
However, compare it to most (if not all) 'modern' Anglican eucharistic prayers (usually approved after a slower and bloodier process of theological horse-trading) and it actually seems rather good...

And, before we get too carried away with the costumes -  from First Things, a couple of articles [here and here] on the en vogue literary / historical  revisionism which is the dramatisation of Hilary Mantel'Wolf Hall (currently screening in the USA) What a lovely modern character her Master Cromwell is, much like the author herself, "one of nature’s Protestants." 
I look forward in a few years to seeing the box sets 'remaindered' in my local garden centre...

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Libyan migrant tragedy

As the tragedy of "illegal migrants" fleeing Libya unfolds in the Mediterranean, it is time, perhaps, for the British Government to admit its own share of responsibility, not only for refusing its backing to a successor to the Italian 'Mare Nostrum'  search and rescue programme, withdrawn last year because of a lack of international support, but for its prior role with France and the USA in the destruction of any recognisable governmental authority within Libya itself. 
Can any rational, responsible exercise of foreign policy include the destruction of one (admittedly abhorrent and tyrannical) regime and its replacement with a situation of complete anarchy? The result, as we know, has been the abandonment of the people of Libya to the ruthless violence of competing militias, the spread into North Africa of the barbarians of ISIS, and the terrible fate we now now see befalling those trying to leave the social and economic chaos behind them. 
The naivety of contemporary western politicians beggars belief in that, encouraged by an increasingly emotive international mass media, they have repeatedly assumed, in the aftermath of the so-called 'Arab Spring,' that 'democracy' can be fashioned ex nihilo in regions with little or no tradition of the rule of law, respect for the rights of minorities,  an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.

Undoubtedly, the immediate blame for the rising death toll lies with the human traffickers who are exploiting the would-be migrants in their attempts to reach mainland Europe, yet those who had a hand in creating the conditions which have led to this cannot themselves escape a very large share of moral responsibility. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury has rightly said that we owe a duty of charity to those who are suffering. One might hope that a number of wealthy, oil-rich Islamic states in the Middle East, and their religious leaders, might come forward with similarly compassionate and merciful sentiments and offers of asylum and practical help to their co-religionists.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Not exactly Turkish delight - a few news items of interest

The Turkish Government's  attack on Pope Francis for cleverly merely quoting Pope St John Paul II about the reality of the Armenian genocide seems to have backfired spectacularly [here] 
Now, of course, everyone, rightly,  is talking about the subject ...
Turkey, however, has an increasingly ambivalent attitude towards its Ottoman past. The aggressive secularism of the modern (post-Ataturk) Turkish State is being toned down considerably due to the resurgence of political Islam. A recent symptom of this is the first recitation of the Koran in Hagia Sophia for 85 years [see here] - something unimaginable only a few years ago and somewhat revealingly insensitive given the desperate plight of non-Muslims in the wider region.. 
Over the years the Turkish record (under democratic or military rule)  on human rights and freedom of speech is not a particularly proud one, nor is its largely uncondemned attempt to eradicate archeological evidence of Asia Minor's Roman / Byzantine and Armenian,  Christian past.
Perhaps our own politicians should think more than twice before advocating, as they are even now,  closer ties between Turkey and the E.U.
"...It is the responsibility not only of the Armenian people and the universal Church to recall all that has taken place, but of the entire human family, so that the warnings from this tragedy will protect us from falling into a similar horror, which offends against God and human dignity. Today too, in fact, these conflicts at times degenerate into unjustifiable violence, stirred up by exploiting ethnic and religious differences. All who are Heads of State and of International Organizations are called to oppose such crimes with a firm sense of duty, without ceding to ambiguity or compromise...."   
[The full text of the Pope's address can be found here]

We should also be glad that the BBC has finally woken up to what is happening to the Christians of the Middle East in our own time.  A good programme [link here]  by Jane Corbin investigates the heart-breaking reality.

The death, after a courageous battle with cancer, of the American Cardinal Francis George [an appreciation here] highlights the contemporary lack of intellectual ballast in the modern Church (ecclesial bodies of all traditions). He is, of course, remembered here mostly for his remarks about the likely fate of his successors:
"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history."

Closer to home, in the run up to the General Election, the Archbishop of Wales urges us [full address here] to cast our votes (as the Church in Wales website puts it) for 'the common good.' 
Most of what Dr Morgan says about Christian concern for the poor and vulnerable in society probably needs to be said more often - if from a more non-tribal standpoint: his references are telling in this regard -  but, and, most importantly, the precise ways in which we can identify and work towards that common good, is a rather more contested subject (both in the Church and in political life) than the Archbishop's Governing Body address seems to credit.

And back to the BBC; there was an interesting radio programme [here]  which, as well as a (determinedly non-theological) attempt to define 'the good life,'  included a piece about the way our politicians and their advisors use language more to disguise rather than illuminate. An abuse of the gift of speech most certainly: it's no wonder the electorate remains so obdurately cynical ...

As to the important issue as to who can we now vote for, Deacon Nick Donnelly [here], from a traditionalist Roman Catholic standpoint,  poses some important questions for all of us: 
"....I consider voting at a General Election to be a solemn and binding duty on every citizen because countless men and women have given their lives to protect our freedom as a democracy. But what do Christians do when all the political parties advocate a whole variety of policies that we consider immoral? I’m sure I’m not the only one to conclude that no political party at this General Election represents our moral world view as a Christians...."
It would also seem that the Greens are now the real 'nasty party' [here] with  its less than articulate leader backing a complete economic, cultural and artistic boycott of the State of Israel, for all its many faults, the only recognisable democratic state in the Middle East.
As 'greenness' (as opposed to responsible, orthodox, Christian stewardship of the natural world) seems to be highly fashionable at the moment, at least among our 'opinion-formers,'  here is a review of 'The Green Bible' (foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu) - yes, really,  you couldn't make it up - I can't resist posting this excerpt from the article: 
"...Still more ill judged is the over-egging of the rhetorical pudding. The project website tells us that “with over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to 490 references to heaven and 530 references to love, the Bible carries a powerful message for the earth.” I am not sure what to make of this argumentum ad arithmeticum, unless the point is that the earth is approximately 1.88 times more important to God than love and 2.04 times more important than heaven. Based on my own research into this topic and following the same method, I am prepared to say that the earth is 7.04 times more important to God than donkeys (which are mentioned 142 times in the Bible).  
The Green Bible presents us with a curious kind of natural theology: We start with things we know to be true from trusted sources—Al Gore, perhaps?—and then we turn to Scripture to measure it against those preexisting and reliable authorities. And what a relief to discover that God is green. Because we already know that it’s good to be green—what we didn’t know is whether God measures up to that standard..."

Monday, 30 March 2015

Abraham and Isaac: Benjamin Britten

Canticle II by Benjamin Britten: Abraham and Isaac - a setting of texts from the Chester Mystery Plays:

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The bias of our broadcasters - the BBC - again

My apologies for yet another post about the BBC, but as one who has very fond childhood and teenage memories of BBC radio particularly (television was another story, but mainly because we lived in the middle of a wood underneath a mountain: television pictures resembled at best a blizzard and at worst an alpine white-out) the Corporation's departure from anything approaching balance, much less impartiality, on so many issues, is becoming now not so much a national scandal as a threat to liberty itself.
Those of us who might be called moderately socially conservative, traditionalist in religion without falling into the profoundly unorthodox trap of fundamentalism, and who are politically on the socially responsible, somewhat 'Cobbettian,' right, have experienced to our cost this barely hidden BBC agenda with its relentless promotion of issues such as women's ordination and same-sex 'marriage,' and a general and deeply embedded institutional bias to the adolescently 'transgressive' and destructive in cultural terms and to the unthinkingly 'liberal- left' in politics.
The latest 'progressive' causes to be promoted include the uncritical acceptance of highly controversial interpretations of those curiously related threats to individual freedom - indeed, freedom of thought itself - 'homophobia' and 'islamophobia,' not to mention an increasing evident editorial line in favour of those pressing, often in highly emotive, selective and misleading terms, for the legalisation of assisted suicide. At times, it seems there is no part of the 'Judeo-Christian' heritage which the programme makers and news editors of the BBC do not seek to undermine and discredit.
The BBC has a very proud past, and many and diverse achievements to its credit, but there has been for some time evidence of an ever growing tendency to use its editorial judgement, not only to report events, but to influence and manipulate them. That this 'Guardianisation,' as it has been described, is funded, in effect compulsorily out of taxation, by the licence-payer, should be a matter of deep concern to all who value free debate and access to a wide range of opinion and balanced information. 
There are those, of course, who would wish to destroy the BBC in favour of a rampant, populist commercialism in broadcasting which would be, if anything, even worse than the existing situation. However, unless the BBC shows a willingness even to recognise that a problem exists, and to begin to set its own house in order, for the greater good of our national cultural and political life, that would seem to be the almost inevitable outcome.
This is Andrew Bridgen M.P., writing in The Telegraph [here]:
"...The BBC has a budget more than double the size of the Foreign Office – and is an empire of an organisation. I believe serious questions must be put to the BBC at Charter Renewal about their agenda and their transparency.This must be done without fear of its monolithic PR machine, which wields so much power. “Auntie”, as she was once affectionately known, is no longer with us. Instead we are faced with one of the last vestiges of corporatism, a leviathan that seeks to change our national culture and which holds even our highest elected representatives in contempt. The BBC has shown it is willing to ride roughshod over our democratic processes, so it must be tackled..."

Monday, 16 March 2015

Politics without vision - and a defence of trees

With the British General Election looming, before early May we will be hard pressed not to be overwhelmed (or should we say underwhelmed?)  with the sight and sound of our politicians disagreeing about inessentials. Perhaps our disillusionment stems from the fact that managerialism lacks any vision with which to captivate, inspire and enthuse..
More and more one sympathises with these words of G.K. Chesterton: 
“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types -- the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”  
Chesterton was right about many things, including the startling absence of real conservatives  - that is, those who believe there may be anything really worthy of conserving - for its own sake rather than for its monetary value or its utility for the modern economy; and those who now call themselves 'socialists' are first in line to promote the atomisation and infantilisation of civil society into ever smaller, warring interest groups, ever more dependent upon the State to the detriment of family and community.
How far this lack of true vision and the resulting apathy about civic life, particularly among the young, are connected with the decline of the Christian ethic in our western societies is open to debate, but we should take to heart these words from one who has a strong claim to be the greatest theological thinker of our day: 
"...This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good. And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy  
The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore..."  Pope Benedict XVI: 2010 Westminster Hall address.
And a word in support of something more enduring than contemporary politics - a defence of trees, firstly and briefly from Peter Hitchens and, secondly, a longer passage from the naturalist and conservationist, Roger Deakin:
"What is the reason for our hatred of trees? Local councils love nothing better than murdering lovely old trees in case they fall down all of a sudden.I now see that the French government plans to massacre thousands of roadside trees because cars often collide with them.
I assume this is because the trees get drunk, rush out into the traffic and steer themselves into the cars." [here]
"....To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed. It is no accident that in the comedies of Shakespeare, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost. It is no accident that in the comedies of Shakespeare, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost. Merlin sends the future King Arthur as a boy into the greenwood to fend for himself in The Sword in the Stone. There, he falls asleep and dreams himself, like a chameleon, into the lives of the animals and the trees. In As You Like It, the banished Duke Senior goes to live in the Forest of Arden like Robin Hood, and in Midsummer Night’s Dream the magical metamorphosis of the lovers takes place in a wood ‘outside Athens’ that is quite obviously an English wood, full of the faeries and Robin Goodfellows of our folklore.
....Human begins depend on trees quite as much as on rivers and the sea. Our intimate relationship with trees is physical as well as cultural and spiritual: literally an exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen. Once inside a wood, you walk on something very like the seabed, looking up at the canopy of leaves as if it were the surface of the water, filtering the descending shafts of sunlight and dappling everything. Woods have their own rich ecology, and their own people, woodlanders, living and working in and around them. A tree itself is a river of sap: through roots that wave about underwater like sea anemones, the willow pollard at one end of the moat where I swim in Suffolk draws gallons of water into the leaf-tips of its topmost branches every day; released as vapour into the summer air, this water then rises invisibly to join the clouds, and the falling raindrops ripple out into every tree ring."   
Roger Deakin 'Wildwood' 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Pilgrimage to Santiago: John Eliot Gardiner

The Monteverdi Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner, sing music from Spain's golden age ..

Friday, 13 March 2015

Where unimaginable inclusivity meets crass stupidity

Here's a silly story about a clergyman who - with the best possible motives, naturally - thinks it is a jolly good idea to allow Muslim prayer in his parish church. [here] Why? Is there a startling absence of mosques or community centres in modern Britain? 
Now, 'Inclusive Mosque' - although it sounds like something dreamt up by Private Eye or Eccles is Saved - may well be a good idea in the global context of violent jihadism, the oppression of women in many parts of the Islamic world and the radicalisation of muslim youth closer to home, but it's difficult to work out just how that is the business of the Church of England.
However, while it's good to see that the Wodehousian tradition of the joke vicar is still alive and simpering, Fr Alexander Luce-Smith at the Catholic Herald explains why Islamic worship in Christian buildings might not be such a good idea after all:
"....The vicar who hosted the Muslim prayers in his church and who took part in them, is reported as saying the following: “It is the same God, we share a tradition.” This is perhaps the most worrying thing of all, and it is something that I have heard on the lips of Catholics too. It is simply not true, and to suggest that it is is misleading, to say the least. Islam’s concept of God and of revelation is radically different to the Catholic concept of either. Moreover, our tradition and their tradition, our culture and theirs, are radically (that is to say from the root up) different. In art, in literature, in law, in cookery, in domestic life, their path is markedly different from our own. The vicar’s words do no one any favours. Moreover, the vicar seems to have forgotten the central mystery of the Christain faith, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, a mystery that penetrates all aspects of faith and life, or should.
Christians who take this, or a similar view, on the closeness of Islamic and Christian traditions, know nothing about Islam, but, shockingly, seem to know nothing about their own Christian tradition either. "  [here]
Neither know nor care, in fact ...

And another silly episode, involving overpaid media folk and an an alleged punch-up over the absence of refreshments at the end of a gruelling day's filming [here]. But, love him or loathe him (or even a strange combination of both) Jeremy Clarkson has an uncanny ability to expose the fault-lines in contemporary British society. It's General Election year, so the politicians also are prompted to give their two penn'orth about something they think might interest the plebs ..... [all kinds of comment from politicos and others here and here] - it's far easier for them, one supposes, than giving a lead about the things which really matter.

And, on an altogether different note, if not wholly uncontroversial, an essay [here] about the wider significance of the books of Rosemary Sutcliff, an author I loved as a child:
"It is this spirit of service, this dedication to a higher principle that we need to find again if our civilization is to survive. We need to rediscover a scale of values, and reconnect with the depth and richness of our religious, intellectual, cultural and political patrimony. The West has little to be ashamed of, and much of which to be proud. Self-doubt leads to self-hate, and self-hate, however subtly justified and disguised, is only a short step towards self-abasement.
This no time for self-abasement. Quite the reverse. We are called instead towards a declaration of faith in everything we believe in, stand for and hold dear, everything good, beautiful, and true, in the face of encroaching darkness from within and without."
And from Sutcliff herself:
"... The shutter banged again, and somewhere in the distance I heard a smothered burst of laughter. I said, ‘Then why don’t we yield now, and make an end? There would be fewer cities burned and fewer men slain that way. Why do we go on fighting? Why not merely lie down and let it come? They say it is easier to drown if you don’t struggle.’
‘For an idea,’ Ambrosius said, beginning again to play with the dragon arm ring, but his eyes were smiling in the firelight, and I think that mine smiled back at him. ‘Just for an idea, for a dream.’
I said, ‘A dream may be the best thing to die for.’ ..."

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The debate we are not allowed to have ...

The last time a prominent figure tried to start this debate, it was immediately closed down by a combination of intellectual dishonesty, coordinated acts of violence and threats of intimidation throughout the Islamic world, and the usual liberal cowardice in the West. To say the least, that was unfortunate because it represents an important theological problem which has, shall we say,  practical implications for all of us. 
There are, of course, differing views as to whether Islam's theology of divine transcendence (and its consequences for civil society) is such as to make impossible peaceful coexistence with those other faiths or none on a basis of equality: however, it would be good to be able to discuss them openly and frankly.

This is Fr George Rutler's latest letter in which he sets out the issues with his usual clarity:  
"Saint Paul knew from personal experience how difficult it would be for people of various cultures to understand why Jesus had to be crucified. For the more religiously disposed, whose most inspired matrix of belief was Judaism, the very suggestion of a crucified Messiah would be a scandal, while the more theoretical thinkers, none of whom were greater than the Greek philosophers, simply mocked the proposition.  
   Centuries later when the Koran was written, subtleties were abandoned altogether, and Sura 4 plainly says of Jesus: “They slew him not nor crucified him.” The hard trials that our world is facing right now can, in large part, be traced to this denial of the Cross and Resurrection, for it replaces Christ’s atonement for human sin with a primitive understanding of salvation.  
   Exactly 229 years ago this month, when the Barbary pirates were menacing ships of the newborn United States off the coasts of Tunis and Algiers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met in London with a Muslim diplomat representing the Dey of Algiers to inquire why his religion made his people so hostile to a new country that posed them no threat. They reported to Congress through a letter to John Jay, then Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the ambassador’s explanation that:
"Islam was founded on the Laws of their prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to paradise." 
Islam believes that Jesus was raised bodily to heaven and will return to earth at the end of time. It holds that if Jesus had been crucified, he would have died, and that would have been his end. The consequences of not understanding God’s love, crowned and enthroned albeit with thorns on a cross, are vivid now in the horrors being inflicted on Christians in many places. For if God is pure will without reason, whose mercy is gratuitous and has nothing to do with any sort of moral covenant with the human race, then irrational force in his name is licit, and conscience has no role in faith. This is not the eccentric interpretation of extremists; it is the logical conclusion of the assertions in the Koran itself.  
   The true Word of God confounds any crude dismissal of the crucifixion as though it were a denial, and not a proof of divine power. Jesus spoke of himself as the true Temple that, if destroyed, would be raised in three days. “Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). "        

Friday, 6 March 2015

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

Today's Welsh SSC Synod was saved from (an understandable) introspection and temptation to despair at our current predicament by an inspiring address at Mass by Bishop Lindsay Urwin, our Episcopal Visitor.

But a question does arise in relation to the plight of the orthodox 'original integrity'   in Anglican provinces such as Wales, where alternative episcopal oversight has been repeatedly denied and solemn promises and pious assurances have been repeatedly broken. At what point does it become a matter of necessary self-preservation for those in other, larger, nearby provinces to come to the assistance - in whatever way possible - of those so shamefully treated? 
Of course, for Catholics remaining in the Church of England, Wales, despite its proximity,  is a very small side-show indeed (why try to reverse the last 800 years of history?) Moreover, the Church of England, and the catholic integrity with in it, is also living through a period of great uncertainty and political sensitivity, where the future of the Catholic Movement is at least partly dependent upon the goodwill of its opponents. 'Don't rock the boat' may well be a very sensible temporary stratagem, and cross-provincial disputes with irate and over-sensitive Celtic prelates may prove disastrously counter-productive the way things are at present.
We are very grateful indeed for the prayers and encouragement of so many of our brethren across the border and for the hospitality and understanding we have received there.

But at some point the realisation may dawn that if a significant tradition within historic Anglicanism can be so ruthlessly bulldozed out of existence in the Province of Wales by the ruling liberal caliphate - no that's unfair, let's go with 'self-perpetuating oligarchy with one-party state tendencies and a disdainful aversion to differing or critical voices' (rather like its counterpart across the Pond, it's more a kind of crazily liberal* ecclesiastical version of 'Putinism' than anything approaching ISIL,)  a similar fate may sooner or later await the heirs of the Oxford Movement in the Provinces of Canterbury and York.
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out...."

* One is tempted to suggest that, like the previous great 'consultation' in the province, conclusions have been drawn and decisions made long before any meetings have been held.

Blogging has been difficult of late. Losing all three of our surviving parents in a period of six months has meant priorities have inevitably lain elsewhere.
'Back on the horse,' though, as they say ...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

A startling absence of a Christian presence today

The victims of the recent terrorist attack in Paris were commemorated this evening with a silent walk and demonstration beginning outside the Senedd (the Welsh parliament) building in Cardiff Bay [Report here] The event was  organised by French ex-patriates living in the Welsh capital and  this evening’s rally was joined by First Minister Carwyn Jones, the Secretary of State for Wales Stephen Crabb, chair of the Muslim Council of Wales Dr Saleem Kidwai, Rabbi Michael Rose from Cardiff United Synagogue, South Wales Police Commissioner Alun Michael, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, AMs and city councillors..
About 1500 people were present, including many individual Christians but, we are told by one of those who was there, there was not a single 'official' representative of a Christian Church or ecclesial body.
What on earth will this conspicuous absence - and deafening silence- say to the public at large and to those who were prepared to make the effort to be there - that the Church does not care, that we have nothing to say, or that we are completely irrelevant now to the culture to which our leaders cosy up at every possible opportunity?
We can, of course, spare the time and change our busy schedules to build altars out of silly boxes in Llandudno ... or anything else we could care to mention.
And,  if there had been no official invitation, would it not have been possible to attend and walk anyway - conspicuously and dressed appropriately? 
Or don't our Christian leaders (or rather their well paid PR and press officers) read the newspapers and social media or watch television? Perhaps they should ...

And, this time, those who criticise demonstrations of this kind are mistaken on one point: this is nothing like the hysteria surrounding the death of Diana, Princess of Wales - a robust public defence of our traditional liberties (however flawed the Charlie Hebdo victims might have been or abhorrent their views) is something far more significant than that rather bizarre episode - not that our politicians seem willing to understand that, or anything other than the supposed need to exploit the situation in order to grab more surveillance powers for the State ..... ...

Jehan Alain: Prière pour nous autres charnels

Alain's setting of words by Charles Péguy
L'Ensemble Vocal de Saint François Xavier, Baritone solo : Jean-Philippe Biojout

"Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour la terre charnelle,
Mais pourvu que ce fût pour une juste guerre.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour quatre coins de terre.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts d'une mort solennelle.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans les grandes batailles,
Couchés dessus le sol à la face de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts sur un dernier haut lieu
Parmi tout l'appareil des grandes funérailles.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour des cités charnelles
Car elles sont le corps de la cité de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour leur âtre et leur feu,
Et les pauvres honneurs des maisons paternelles.
Car elles sont l'image et le commencement
Et le corps et l'essai de la maison de Dieu.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts car ils sont revenus
Dans la demeure antique et la vieille maison.
Ils sont redescendus dans la jeune saison
D'où Dieu les suscita misérables et nus.
Heureux ceux qui sont morts car ils sont retournés
Dans ce premier terreau nourri de leur dépouille
Dans ce premier caveau, dans la tourbe et la houille.
Heureux les grands vaincus, les rois désabusés."

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The future of the Church

This was posted today on the blog Vultus Christi, under the heading 'The real crisis has scarcely begun'
I will reproduce it here in its entirety - it will already be familiar to some -  as it gives the best possible riposte to to those who now seem to see the future of the sacred ministry in terms of a kind of corporate managerialism, and are prepared to spend huge sums of money in order to re-train their clergy to perform tasks far better performed by others. The author? One Fr Joseph Ratzinger ....  
"The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves.
To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are!
How does all this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but but the priest who is no specialist; who does not stand on the sidelines, watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of men, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.
Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge a Church that has lost much She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she loose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision . As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death."
Published as Faith and the Future [Ignatius Press]