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 ....