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's 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..."