For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Angelic Joys

Now that secondhand book selling has retreated out of shabby little shops in side streets and onto websites, one forgets the pleasure of a long browse and its serendipitous joys. Inevitably, something catches one's eye in a bookshop, because it is by Holy Luck on that particular shelf, which one would not have seen on Amazon - for Amazon does not have bookshelves, just empty "search" boxes that can only return what one has entered in them.

In the last two weeks I made a point of going to Charing Cross Road, then to the top notch Skoob shop near Russell Square, and some books fell into my lap that I have been thinking about with longing for years. Charles Williams' Many Dimensions, Centuries of Meditations by Thomas Traherne, Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and Evelyn Waugh's biography of Campion all jumped out at me without me even looking for them.

The last mentioned, Waugh's biography of the Jesuit martyr, is the one I picked to read first, and I note that Waugh thinks that Campion's leaving Douai was a great loss to the translation of the Bible that was proceeding there, the Douai-Rheims. He rates Campion as one of the great prose writers of his generation. Campion writes fondly of his time in the novice house in Moravia, of the shared life of prayer and manual labour,
How could I help taking fire at the remembrance of that house where there were so many burning souls - fiery of mind, fiery of body, fiery of word with the flame which God came upon earth to send, that it should burn there always? O dear walls, that once enclosed me in your company! Pleasant recreation room, where we talked so holily! Glorious kitchen, where the best of friends - John and Charles, the two Stephens, Sallitzi, Finnit and George, Tobias and Gaspar - fight for the pots in holy humility and charity unfeigned! How often do I picture it; one returning with his load from the farm; another from market; one sweating, sturdy and merry, under a sack of refuse, another toiling along on some other errand! Believe me, my dearest brethren, your dust and brooms, chaff and loads are beheld with joy by the angels.
Dust and brooms beheld with joy by the angels: I think a Pre-Raphaelite painter could have done something rather splendid with that image.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Take Off Thy Shoes

Here is a link to a series of seven posts on liturgy by the author of the now-closed RadTrad blog, which has bearings on a lot more than the usual arguments in the Latin vs. Novus Ordo debate. It is a praiseworthy piece of historical analysis showing that some common assumptions made in that debate are dubious e.g. that the problems with liturgical reform stem only from the Second Vatican Council, or that there would be no need for quite significant reform if one returned to the 1962 Missal, or that the liturgy is a tabula rasa upon which one can write one's theology. I quote:
Perhaps the saddest consequence of this legalism and liturgical centralization is that decline of people's view of Rome as the spiritual center of the Church and of the Pope as the spiritual father. The Pope is just the man who makes the rules and the Vatican processes them. If in the early 13th century, I asked a priest in Canterbury Cathedral if Pope Innocent III had the power to depose King John, the priest would probably at least entertain the question: political power comes from God and the Pope is His vicar on earth. If I asked him if the same Pope could dictate every word and action of the Mass he just celebrated, the same priest would think me mad. Yet, I wager the same priest would not dare to change a punctuation mark in the Roman Canon, much less write a series of new anaphoras.
I wish as many people as possible would read this, and get the point, and agree with it: i.e. the Divine Liturgy is not ours to rewrite. It is worth repeating ad nauseam, until it filters into every Christian's thinking and actions and (very importantly) way of celebrating their liturgy, including their most informal of prayers in their own homes: the Divine Liturgy is not ours to rewrite. If people started to understand that the Divine Liturgy had a status like that of Holy Scripture, and that it both stood above and judged academic theology and bound the exercise of authority, then Christendom would be a step closer to unity, knowing that the Divine Liturgy possessed Her, and not She, It.

The Ordinariate and its liturgy, and its development, will (I believe) founder on precisely the same rock unless it plants its feet there. We in the Ordinariate are in a predicament, at first glance appearing to hold to a liturgical tradition that we have made up for ourselves. But we have a loadstone viz. Sarum, and its reception and translation in the Book of Common Prayer, and this can help to ground the liturgy within tradition. But even if one has a liturgy that is "traditional" in the sense of preserving continuity (and I believe the Ordinariate Rite is a bridge between Vetus and Novus via Anglican texts and Anglo-Catholic theology) this is insufficient. For the actual preservation of an exact form of words and ritual - paradoxical as this may sound - is not so important as the reverence with which one treats those texts, and the understanding that in them the Holy Spirit is pulling us up into the very life of Christ, and bundling us oafs into heaven before the Slain Lamb. Those words, those images, are the Angelic forms that carry us up the Jacob's Ladder that is the Blessed Lord Jesus. William Blake wrote that Albion was slain
through envy of Living Form, even of the Divine Vision, And of the sports of Wisdom in the Human Imagination, Which is the Divine Body of The Lord Jesus, blessed for ever.
It might not be immediately clear what this has to do with the Liturgy, but the clue is that the words, the images and their meanings are not bits added on to a sacrament, but are a living and necessary part of it: that the Wisdom of God that sports in the Human Imagination is the Logos who creates all things, and His Divine Body is the Word made flesh. And what ought our attitude to be if the Living Form of creation is uttering Itself in the Divine Liturgy of the sacraments and daily prayer? "Mark well my words," says Blake, "for they are of your eternal salvation."

Saturday, 8 February 2014

From the Oxus to Baile's Strand

The Persian warrior and hero Rustum got his son upon a noble's daughter: the son Sohrab, brought up in his mountain fastness, has never met his father but searches for him, doing great deeds of war. At last they meet, and tragically they fight a single combat by the banks of the Oxus, each not knowing who the other is - for an ill fate has led Rustum to change the armour that Sohrab has been told to look for by his mother. Though Rustum's heart has misgivings, they fight.

At last, fatally wounded, Sohrab speaks the words that will pierce through Rustum with the dread truth.

I brought this on myself, this is from me,
And Fate has merely handed you the key
To my brief life: not you but heaven’s vault —
Which raised me and then killed me — is at fault.
Love for my father led me here to die.
My mother gave me signs to know him by,
And you could be a fish within the sea,
Or pitch black, lost in night’s obscurity,
Or be a star in heaven’s endless space,
Or vanish from the earth and leave no trace,
But still my father, when he knows I’m dead,
Will bring down condign vengeance on your head.
One from this noble land will take this sign
To Rustam’s hands, and tell him it was mine,
And say I sought him always, far and wide,
And that at last, in seeking him, I died.

There is a very similar story told of Cuchulain, the Hound of Ulster, who had a son called Conlaoch by the warrior queen Aoife whom he overcame in battle, which son was brought up in Scotland and trained as a warrior apart from his father. His mother puts what is called a geasa or taboo upon Conlaoch, never to refuse a challenge, never to give way in a fight, and never to tell his name on demand. Thus he arrives in Ulster, armed for war, and kills several heroes before Cuchulain arrives on the strand.

Cuchulain rose up then and went to where Conlaoch was, and he still handling his arms. And Cuchulain asked him his name and said: "It would be well for you, young hero of unknown name, to loosen yourself from this knot, and not to bring down my hand upon you, for it will be hard for you to escape death." But Conlaoch said: "If I put you down in the fight, the way I put down your comrade, there will be a great name on me; but if I draw back now, there will be mockery on me, and it will be said I was afraid of the fight. I will never give in to any man to tell the name, or to give an account of myself. But if I was not held with a command," he said, "there is no man in the world I would sooner give it to than to yourself, since I saw your face. But do not think, brave champion of Ireland, that I will let you take away the fame I have won, for nothing."
With that they fought together, and it is seldom such a battle was seen, and all wondered that the young lad could stand so well against Cuchulain.
So they fought a long while, neither getting the better of the other, but at last Cuchulain was charged so hotly by the lad that he was forced to give way, and although he had fought so many good fights, and killed so many great champions, and understood the use of arms better than any man living, he was pressed very hard.
And he called for the Gae Bulg, and his anger came on him, and the flames of the hero-light began to shine about his head, and by that sign Conlaoch knew him to be Cuchulain, his father. And just at that time he was aiming his spear at him, and when he knew it was Cuchulain, he threw his spear crooked that it might pass beside him. But Cuchulain threw his spear, the Gae Bulg, at him with all his might, and it struck the lad in the side and went into his body, so that he fell to the ground.
And Cuchulain said: "Now, boy, tell your name and what you are, for it is short your life will be, for you will not live after that wound."
And Conlaoch showed the ring that was on his hand, and he said: "Come here where I am lying on the field, let my men from the east come round me. I am suffering for revenge. I am Conlaoch, son of the Hound, heir of dear Dundealgan; I was bound to this secret in Dun Scathach, the secret in which I have found my grief."

Saturday, 1 February 2014

What's Wrong With Schools

I was trawling through the websites of so-called "free" schools set up over the last two or three years: where a group of parents or religious organisation can demonstrate that they have the numbers of pupils required, they receive government funding to set up a school. For faith schools, they can specify 50% of their intake according to their own admission criteria. Anecdotally, this isn't quite enough to satisfy parents who want to be sure that the school is a Christian foundation, and with only 50% it is difficult to uphold an ethos - something like 60-70% is needed, I am told.

I had thought, however, that free schools were an opportunity for those disappointed by modern educational practice and standards to do something very different. Perhaps a traditional approach with classical languages taught; or a school incorporating the ideas of the liberal arts education movement that has taken off in the United States; something, anything a bit out of the ordinary. That wasn't what I picked up from the websites. They were, it is true, marginally better designed and glossier looking than their established state secondary counterparts websites. But the rhetoric - innovation, promoting creative learning, every child matters etc. which tells you nothing except that the people who wrote the stuff have no imagination at all - was no different. (Look Dearest, this prospectus says Every Child Matters! There we were expecting all the promotional literature to say they couldn't stand the little brats.) Even the Christian free schools are infected with this timid lack of specifics and thralldom to Creative Nice-Speak: they tentatively whisper a few things about ethos and catering to spiritual development and "Christian vision" (meaning precisely what?) in the Our Mission page.

So, I was thinking, why - even when people have the opportunity to set up whatever kind of faith school they like with public money - is there nothing more virile and hard-edged in outline, more ruggedly counter-cultural? These are some suggestions.

1) It is difficult to hire enough godly teachers to give an overall Christian ethos to a school; and is this something to do with teacher training, too, and deficient notions of pedagogy imparted thereby? I suspect one needs a very dedicated core of teachers with a common purpose to give a school a really Christian ethos.

2) New schools do not have a long tradition and atmosphere into which new teachers can be assimilated and informed by, thus compounding problem (1). I think this could be overcome: see next point.

3) The problem is not so much that the free schools are necessarily new, but to do with modern eduction itself. The modern school becomes the place it is not because it isn't old, but because it does what it does and aims at what it aims at. The aim is in fact A-levels. No matter how much one puts on extra-curricular activities, or even fiddles around with the syllabus or gives teachers freedom to teach outside the curriculum, the school will always take its cue from its "highest" form of specifically academic activity (for it is an academic institution by definition). This will not change until there  is a collegiate life among the teachers themselves: the ultimate aim of the school will therefore not be A-level results or (slightly better) A-level knowledge, but the adult and lifelong pursuit of wisdom. And in a Christian school this could be united around a life of prayer and sacrament also - again, not a school assembly and Eucharist every so often, but something to which the teachers as a college are devoted. This again presents a difficulty - because one would need a core of teachers willing and called to pursue this kind of life, almost like a religious order.

4) Perhaps they don't want to scare the horses with a too aggressively Christian publicity: but I think that people actually want a Christian school to be Christian. I am told that the restriction on the specified intake for faith schools was a pragmatic one, to prevent all-Muslim schools springing up everywhere and creating ghettos. But the restriction has had precisely the opposite impact - when a Muslim school is advertised, they aren't shy, and people know it is going to be a properly Muslim school. And so, surprise, the pupils are overwhelmingly Muslim. Christian schools on the other hand, where the parents are concerned that it might not turn out to be very Christian at all if only 50% of the pupils are of Christian family, are smothered by the restriction because they cannot garner enough parental support. Well, perhaps this is inevitable - more non-religious Britons would send their child to a Christian than a Muslim school - but I am not so very sure. Call the school St John the Evangelist with St Michael the Archangel; put a picture of a few boys warbling in choir robes on the prospectus, candles burning before them; stipulate that the pupils will attend chapel for 15 minutes at Prime and Sext every day, and Sung Eucharist every Wednesday; and explain that R.E. is mostly catechesis and that the curriculum will be shot through with the light of Christ. I would be very surprised if there was a huge uptake among people who would actively resist a Christian ethos; and at least the non-religious parents (who should be welcomed with open arms) would be aware of what they were getting their children into, and wouldn't be left wondering what the vague "Christian vision" on the Our Mission page was about.

Warren’s Sarum Missal in English