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The funeral of Margaret Hilda Roberts Thatcher — Baroness Thatcher of Kestaven (pron. ‘KESS-tuh-vun’) — was held Wednesday, April 17, 2013 in St Paul’s Cathedral.
My condolences to her family and prayers for them in the weeks ahead as they come to terms with the loss of their mother and grandmother who died at the age of 87.
A brief appraisal of Margaret Thatcher
Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and the longest serving in 150 years was contentious, to say the least — and not just among left-wing agitprop types. Twenty-three years ago, Conservative Party loyalists also thought that it was time for the Iron Lady to stand down. These were people Mrs Thatcher’s age or older who had devoted much free time over the years to their local Conservative Association. They thought that she had started believing her own hype, had served long enough and had damaged the image of the Party. The autumn of 1990 was tense for them as they watched events unfold during the leadership contest, during which she vowed to ‘fight to win’. Eventually, her Cabinet persuaded Mrs Thatcher to withdraw her name from the ballot. Her Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major went on to win the Party leadership vote, replaced her as Prime Minister and went on to win the General Election of 1992. He lost to Tony Blair in 1997.
It is for this reason that Margaret Thatcher is anathema in our household, along with Princess Diana, Tony Blair, the Pope, Obama and Mormons. (The last two meant that any conversations about the 2012 US election were short-lived!)
That said, I would rather have had her as Prime Minister than not. Margaret Thatcher knew her own mind and had a strong sense of morality. I don’t agree with all of her decisions, however, we must not forget the Winter of Discontent under her predecessor, Labour’s James Callaghan. That period between 1978 and 1979 was the last straw for many British voters. Indeed, it was the sort of national debacle that can happen only under a left-wing government. It was against this backdrop that Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election. I’m oversimplifying for reasons of space. My British readers — no agitprop, please — are welcome to contribute their memories of this time in the comments.
Personally, I look at the larger picture of a woman born a grocer’s daughter who worked as a chemist (incidentally, on the formula for the soft ice cream Mr Whippy), then became a Member of Parliament at a time when only 4 per cent of MPs were women, eventually becoming Prime Minister. That is an incredible achievement. Some Western countries have never elected a woman to that or a similar position — France and the United States, to name but two.
Unlike some female politicians, Margaret Thatcher always looked and acted like a lady. She had a certain style which was all her own — one which attracted the respect and admiration of powerful men — without ever debasing herself or her office. Everyone knew that she was a loving wife to her husband Denis (d. 2003), a devoted mother to Carol and Mark and a faithful Christian (initially in the Methodist Church, then the Church of England).
It has been heartening to read the many fulsome comments in Baroness Thatcher’s memory from Americans and the French in mainstream fora. Most wished that they, too, had a Mrs Thatcher as head of state. So do I.
The other tribute which struck me was Labour leader Ed Milliband’s, which I saw replayed on Andrew Neil’s politics show (BBC) on Sunday. It was gracious and generous, considering how opposite they were politically. Apparently, the panellists said, Milliband wanted to ‘go even further’ but Labour advised against it.
Two final thoughts. One, Mrs Thatcher did not need feminism; she made her own way in the world. Two, she might well have been the last Prime Minister to love England.
Before she died, Baroness Thatcher expressed her wish for a religious funeral. She made it clear that she did not want a state funeral. David Cameron and the Conservatives took that into account but decided that she deserved a ceremony which remembered her 11-year leadership and included those who fought in the Falklands War in 1982.
The Queen felt moved to attend the funeral, the first of a Prime Minister she has attended since Winston Churchill’s nearly 50 years ago, in 1965.
As we are unlikely to witness a politician’s funeral of this magnitude anytime soon, it seems worth recording for those who are interested in finding out more about the protocol surrounding such an event.
This is not an encyclopaedic account of the funeral, by the way. Information on the procession and funeral quotes comes from a live blog of her funeral, the order of service and from the BBC1 broadcast of the ceremony, presented by David Dimbleby. My apologies to British readers if I have some of the following titles incorrect.
On Tuesday, April 16, Baroness Thatcher’s coffin was in the Parliamentary chapel, St Mary Undercroft, overnight. The 79th Chaplain to the Speaker of the House, the Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, kept vigil. That evening, the Thatcher family and others — 150 people altogether — participated in a brief service in the chapel.
A funeral procession with a hearse processed from Parliament towards St Paul’s. The streets were lined with well wishers. At St Clement Danes in the Strand — the central church of the Royal Air Force (RAF) — the hearse stopped and the coffin was transferred to a gun carriage which was part of an Armed Forces procession from there to the cathedral.
Participating in the military procession were battalions which had seen active service in the Falklands War. Included were the RAF, the Royal Navy, the Royal Ghurka Rifles, Scots Guards, Royal Artillery, 3 Battalion Parachute Regiment, 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers, 40 Commando Royal Marines. The Royal Marines Band from Portsmouth on the south coast played funeral marches by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Chopin.
During that time, the Honourable Artillery Company fired a gun salute at one-minute intervals from the Tower of London. The gun salute was timed to stop when the procession reached St Paul’s.
A guard of honour from the 1st Batallion Welsh Guards met the procession at the cathedral.
The eight pall bearers were from other Army, Royal Navy and RAF units and stations with links to the Falklands War. Major Nick Mott of the Welsh Guards led the pall bearers. He had served in the Falklands in 1982.
2,300 people attended Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. The Queen and Prince Philip arrived from Windsor exactly 15 minutes before the ceremony began. Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, had been the first to arrive at 9:30. Several members of the Thatcher Cabinet attended, among them Sir John Major, Lord Carrington, Lord (Cecil) Parkinson, Sir Nigel Lawson, Lord (Michael) Heseltine, Baron (Douglas) Hurd, Sir Geoffrey Howe, Sir Norman Tebbit and Baron (Leon) Brittan. Sir Bernard Ingham, synonymous with ‘No. 10′ as her press secretary sat with his former colleagues. Current Conservative MPs and cabinet members were also in the congregation along with Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and William Hague. The Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson and former Speaker of the House Betty Boothroyd were also there.
Among those from the Labour Party were the current Leader of the Opposition Ed Milliband, Tony and Cherie Blair as well as Gordon and Sarah Brown.
A number of Liberal Democrats also attended, including Dame Shirley Williams, Baron (David) Steel, Baron (David) Owen as well as Nick and Miriam Clegg.
Among the entertainers and broadcasters in the congregation were Dame Shirley Bassey, Katherine Jenkins, Sir Terry Wogan and Jeremy Clarkson. Journalists included John Sergeant, Kelvin Mackenzie, Matthew Parris and Peter Jenkins.
Lady Thatcher’s two full-time carers were also among the congregation as were several members of the armed forces who saw active service in the Falklands, such as Simon Weston — probably the most famous veteran.
Foreign countries also sent representatives. The United States sent George Shultz and James Baker (both from the Reagan era), Henry Kissinger and Dick Cheney. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended for Israel. Elisabeth Guigou, adviser to the Mitterand government (1980s), represented France. Mario Monti represented Italy. Kuwait sent Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Sabah, the son of the ruler of Kuwait Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al Sabah. Former president FW de Klerk represented South Africa.
Lady Thatcher’s grandchildren — Amanda and Michael — processed with the coffin down the central aisle towards the bier in front of the altar. Each carried a purple cushion. One had the insignia of the Order of the Garter and the other that of the Order of Merit. They placed the cushions one on either side of the bier.
The Very Revd David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s (post-Occupy), led the service. He gave a brief, gracious introduction about the life of Lady Thatcher and the values by which she lived.
Everyone then recited the Lord’s Prayer.
The congregation then sang the first hymn, ‘He Who Would Valiant Be’ (Monks Gate). Paul Bunyan, incidentally, wrote the lyrics, which conclude with:
I’ll fear not what men say
I’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.
Lady Thatcher’s granddaughter Amanda, aged 19, read the first reading, Ephesians 6:10-18, which is read at the funeral of every member of the Order of the Garter. It includes these verses:
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
The men’s and boy’s choir of St Paul’s then sang an anthem by Henry Purcell, ‘Hear My Prayer, O Lord’, which is based on Psalm 102. Among the verses in that Psalm are the following:
25Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
27But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
Prime Minister David Cameron took the second reading, John 14:1-6:
1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. 5Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
The choir sang a second anthem, one which Lady Thatcher chose for her husband Denis’s funeral: ‘How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place’, based on Psalm 84 with music by Brahms. Psalm 84 ends with these verses:
11For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
12O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.
The Bishop of London, the Right Revd Richard Chartres, delivered the address, which gave us an insight into the spiritual thoughts of Lady Thatcher.
Chartres was careful to say at the start — and more eloquently than I express it here — that whilst people had varying opinions of Lady Thatcher, the congregation should consider her funeral a time for ‘reconciling’ and hope.
He recalled the kindness and courtesy she extended to those who worked for her over the decades. He also remembered the careful attention she took when replying to youngsters who wrote to her. Among them was a nine-year old David Cameron. His letter recounted a discussion he had with his father. David said that he reckoned that Mrs Thatcher never did anything wrong. His father gently corrected him saying that, among those on Earth, only Jesus was perfect. David then decided to write to the Prime Minister who replied (somewhat paraphrased):
However good we try to be we can never be as kind, gentle and good as Jesus.
The Bishop then described her home life and the Church whilst she was growing up. The Roberts family attended their Methodist Church in Grantham, Lincolnshire, twice on Sundays and once during the week. Jesus Christ was at the forefront of their lives.
In adulthood, he said that, as a woman, Lady Thatcher had many hurdles to climb. When she entered Parliament in 1959 (representing Finchley in North London) as a wife and mother, only four per cent of Parliamentarians were women. She experienced many rebuffs from people who did not think that women had any place in political life.
He then explored a few of Lady Thatcher’s personal beliefs:
- Christianity offers no easy solutions to political and social issues.
- Family lies at the heart of society and civic virtue. It can be easily eroded. (He then discussed the taking out of context that people did when Lady Thatcher said, ‘There is no such thing as society’.)
- Individual independence is essential to living a Christian life. This meeting of individuals leads to an interdependence as we lean on each other and upon Christ.
Chartres then remembered Lady Thatcher’s ‘lifelong dependence’ on her husband Denis, recalling that his death ‘was a great blow indeed’.
He asked the congregation to remember God’s generosity in giving us the gift of His only Son, Jesus Christ. He also recognised that, at times like these, we also take stock of our own lives. How have we lived? What will people remember of us?
One of his final remarks was recalling what Lady Thatcher said the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) Assembly (somewhat paraphrased):
I leave you with the earnest hope that we all may come closer to that other country in ways of gentleness and peace.
The congregation then sang the famous Wesley hymn, ‘Love Divine, All Loves Excelling’ (Blaenwern).
Afterward, four clergy offered prayers in Lady Thatcher’s memory: Chaplain to the Speaker of the House, the Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin; the Most Revd Patrick Kelly, Bishop Emeritus of the (Catholic) Diocese of Liverpool; the Revd William Hall of the American Church and the Revd Ruth Gee, President Designate to the Methodist Convention.
The choir sang the final anthem, ‘May Angels Lead You Into Paradise’ from Fauré’s Requiem Mass.
The Revd Sarah Eynstone, Minor Canon and Chaplain at St Paul’s then read a short prayer.
The congregation then sang a rousing rendition of ‘I Vow to Thee My Country’ (Thaxted). Between them and the choir’s superb singing, I thought the dome of St Paul’s might lift off. It was a glorious moment and a perfect one for the end of a funeral.
Bishop Chartres gave a blessing, followed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, whose blessing included this petition:
Grant us a safe passage and Your holy blessing.
The pall bearers then came to gather the casket for the procession out of the cathedral. They were led by two clergy from St Paul’s, each of them carrying one of the aforementioned velvet cushions.
A soloist sang the Nunc Dimittis, another hauntingly beautiful moment from this historic ceremony.
The Thatcher family processed behind the coffin, followed at some distance by the Queen and Prince Philip. Once outside, the Thatchers watched as the pall bearers carefully placed the coffin in the hearse with a cushion on each side. The Queen and Prince Philip, accompanied by St Paul’s clergy, watched this from some distance away, on the top step of the cathedral.
Afterward, the Queen and Prince Philip allowed the Thatchers a few minutes among themselves before walking down to express their condolences and talk for a while.
The hearse proceeded via a different route to the Royal Hospital Chelsea and from there to Mortlake Crematorium, west of London.
The Thatchers and a small party of friends attended a reception at the Guildhall in the City of London.
In closing, the BBC’s David Dimbleby called our attention to the motto on Baroness Thatcher’s Order of Merit cushion:
Today’s more extreme Christians in the United States blame their country’s problems on the ‘evil’ Enlightenment, the era when their Great Republic was founded.
Considering they are Americans, it makes one wonder whether they should apply for Canadian or similar citizenship.
America’s Founding Fathers debated the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in scorching heat in Philadelphia during the late 18th century. They rightly gave Americans a republic — neither a democracy nor a theocracy.
Interestingly, on the other side of the spectrum, we have the welfare-scroungers, who also find their home country lacking.
They and the extreme Christians — opposite sides of the American equation — have something in common: they both detest the republic in which they live. One side longs for a lifelong-subsistence-at-taxpayer-expense-democracy and the other for a theocracy.
Common to both of these groups is a lack of interest in history. Each chooses a handful of negative themes and buzzwords to suit its narrow point of view.
Both are also anti-intellectuals. As they see it, there is no need to think critically. Basic education suffices.
Bottom line — neither group is making many converts to their respective causes. Their proponents seem to be demanding and angry. That would be more tolerable if only they didn’t have such huge knowledge gaps from which they derive their worldviews.
I cannot easily address the ’47%’. The fallacy which posits that ‘oppression’ exists today is hard to undo given the pre-eminence of community organisers on the American urban landscape, all the way up to the White House.
However, for extreme Christians, below is a summary of the complex history of Western thought which might give them something to consider and research for themselves.
Virtue Online — Dr David Virtue’s Anglican site — featured a highly balanced talk by Iain Provan about the history of Western thought over the past several centuries. Provan spoke at the late Francis Schaeffer’s l’Abri ['Shelter']; for those outside of the US, Schaeffer is the modern-day saint of conservative American Protestants.
Dr Provan has been the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College since 1997. Excerpts of his talk to l’Abri follow. He demonstrates the complexity of thought in light of Christianity, touching briefly on the Middle Ages before moving on to the Renaissance period.
There is much more at the link above. Emphases mine (outside of headings and italics). Enjoy:
… So how exactly did this displacement of the Christian meta-narrative happen? And how are we to respond to that reality now, in the present moment? That’s my topic for this evening. I’m going to begin by talking about the ‘back-story’ – the period prior to the seventeenth century. I don’t think we are really going to understand what one author has called the ‘eclipse of biblical narrative’ in the period of modernity unless we have some idea of went before and prepared the way for it …
2. The Back-Story
We could begin the back story at various points. For example, we could begin it with the 13th century English Franciscan monk named Roger Bacon – an interesting figure on the leading edge of what was already a changing world. He still lives within the “culture of the Book” I just mentioned; but he does not live within it uncritically. His various writings tell us that on the one hand he would like to see more of the Book – more emphasis on, and more accurate reading of, the Bible. He would like on the other hand to see more openness to the world around about – God’s other Book, if you like, the book of creation ...
So I’m going to begin instead with the Renaissance, in the period from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Here we find that same emphasis on the good reading of books that I’ve just been talking about. There’s tremendous emphasis in this period, for example, on ‘going back to the sources’ in order to correct modern, inexact texts – a tremendous interest in history, and remarkable recovery rate in terms of finding ancient texts. This included biblical texts, in their original languages, with which the Latin Vulgate could be compared and contrasted. The scholarship which flourished during these centuries was also facilitated by a renewed interest and competence in Hebrew and Greek.
But to go back to the sources was not just to produce more reliable biblical texts; it was also to look carefully and in a new way at the content of the biblical text, as a text from the past. So it is that in the Renaissance we see very careful attention given to the content of biblical texts, by scholars reading them in their original languages. We already see, for example, discussion of the puzzle that there are different names for God in the Hebrew of Genesis 1-2, and discussion of the idea that the Pentateuch might not be a unified book, but may be a combination of different books. Both discussions are later important in developing theories about the composition of the Pentateuch. And beyond all that, the Renaissance also sees continuing, serious attempts to read the Bible in the light of new knowledge arising from scientific endeavor and from expeditions of discovery. We see this reflected for example in John Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, when in chapter 1:16 he confronts the problem of the “greater and lesser lights” that God sets in the sky, and he is forced to ask how we should best read this text in view of what the developing science of astronomy has to say. His solution is to read Genesis 1 as a non-scientific account of the creation of the world – a description of creation such as could be understood by a normal Israelite, and not a description corresponding to current (16th century) scientific knowledge. Ancient texts need not be expected to speak about the natural world in modern Renaissance or early modern ways, suggests Calvin: ‘I have said, that Moses does not here subtilely descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of nature … Moses wrote, in a popular style, things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labour whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them’ …
At the same time, however, it is true that in the post-Reformation period in the 16th century we find questions about what the Bible means producing markedly different answers; and one of the most challenging issues becomes how to handle the diversity that now confronts people, in terms of these answers. This was not just a matter of Protestant disagreement with Catholics; it was also a matter of disagreement among Protestants (for example, between Lutherans and Anabaptists) …
So what do we learn about the period prior to the seventeenth century in Europe? We learn that the notion of a Christian civilization is still alive and well, and that the attempt to integrate all knowledge within the bounds of the Christian story is still proceeding. However, there are some stresses and strains, in terms of how exactly to integrate new knowledge with the old and how exactly to read Scripture and Creation together as the two books of God. There is a very particular problem with respect to the unity of Christian civilization, which has fractured in the Reformation; and this leads on to questions about how diversity of opinion and dissent are going to be handled in the emerging new world.
3. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
As we enter the first half of the 17th century the very attempt to read the world at all within the framework of the traditional Christian story about the world is now, for many people, under threat – at least the versions of the story offered in the post-mediaeval Christian syntheses of the Reformation, on the one hand, and of Roman Catholic Thomism, on the other. The position of the Bible as the grounding authority in European society not only on religious and ecclesiastical matters, but on everything, is increasingly challenged, even as its infallibility is increasingly stressed by Protestant theologians intent on strengthening its immediate authority, as in the case of the Westminster Confession of 1646.
Beyond information, however, the 17th century was of course a century marked in its first half also by terrible war; and with the end of war around about the middle of the century came a deep desire not to go that way again … “Reason” appears to many to offer greater hope for a way ahead than the kind of biblical interpretation that had earlier prevailed. A good example of the kind of response these various circumstances evoked in Bible readers in the early to mid-17th century is provided by the Englishman Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). Hobbes was a rationalistic Anglican who lived through the English Civil War – a supporter of the absolutist monarchy and the system of the state church under Charles I. The question lying at the foundation of Hobbes’ famous book Leviathan (1651) is how a state can retain stability and avoid internal chaos when faced with competing religious claims. His inspiration in answering this question lies in the methods of the natural sciences as they were developing in his time. He seeks to apply to human beings and to the state … scientific theories about “bodies in movement” and the influence they have on each other. Implicit in this is a theory of natural law, in line with which the Bible itself must function – not least because the very extent of the canon is a matter of disagreement among Christians, he says, and must itself be decided by the sovereign of a given Christian nation. The public realm is to be governed by reason – by science – and not by particular interpretations of Scripture ...
The Liberal Anglicanism known as Latitudinarianism that gained a dominant public position in England in the second half of the seventeenth century followed a similar line in distinguishing faith and reason, the private and the public. An important figure here is John Locke (1632-1704), who argued that Government was not [made legitimate] by nature but created by society, and remained legitimate only by doing its job properly in the interest of those who created it – otherwise it ought to be overthrown. No divine right of kings here, derived from the Bible. A government’s job, in Locke’s view, was to protect life, liberty and, above all, property. Among the things that government should not do, argued Locke, was to interfere with an individual’s religious life, which he considered essentially to be a completely private affair. The State must leave people alone, so far as possible, voluntarily to join such churches as they wish.
Among the many intriguing aspects of Locke’s thought is his historical consciousness, which is very much a feature of the times – a new perception among European thinkers of the importance of history for understanding ideas and indeed of the reality that ideas develop over time. We find it, for example, in the writings of the French Roman Catholic Richard Simon (1638-1712), whose Critical History of the Old Testament specifically mentions in his preface the work of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza himself makes some use of historical argumentation precisely to undermine the Bible’s authority and therefore its use as a foundational document for the organization of society. Significantly, Simon responded to Spinoza’s mainly rationalist approach with an even more thoroughgoing historical approach. For example, he argues that if internal evidence suggests that Moses did not write all of the Pentateuch, this does NOT mean that the Pentateuch was diminished in importance – it only suggested how it was composed. The status of the text was not affected by the process of its composition. Simon was one of the first to carry out this kind of historical investigation in a systematic manner; and it is important to note that it arises not out of hostility to Christian faith, but rather out of a desire to offer an apologetic on behalf of the faith, in the face of criticism of the Bible by radical thinkers. This criticism was a marked feature of the 17th century, however, as [classical] liberals [not leftists, who would come later] targeted what they saw as the main obstacle to a better world – namely, the Bible ...
It is in the 18th century, however, that the synthesis of Scripture and reason, which together had formed the criteria for public discourse in Europe from the time of the Church Fathers until the 18th century, finally begins completely to unravel. As a result of increasingly fervent intellectual attacks the Bible loses its significance for philosophical thought and for the theoretical constitutional foundations of political ideals in England and then elsewhere. The principles of the Humanist world-view increasingly take over in the public realm as the measurement of the truth and relevance of the Bible itself. The ethical rationalism that thus emerges in public life proves to be one of the forces that shape not only Britain but the entire modern world. It is in this new context that Bible-reading now takes place. It is a world marked by John Locke’s ideas about the legitimacy of the state as rooted in the will of the people rather than in the will of God. It is a world marked by foundational political documents characterized by claims about self-evident human rights rather than prescribed human duties. It is a world of growing freedom for people to believe and to do as they wish, as long as they do not disturb the peace of society.
And this is not only the world of the Enlightenment rationalists. It is also the world of the evangelical Pietists. This is where evangelicalism begins – with people like John Wesley, with his deep convictions about the truth at the heart of the Gospel, but his emphasis nevertheless on tolerance with respect to the inessentials of the faith, and his emphasis on the religion of the heart rather than on the religion of doctrinal confession. This is a world in fact in which everyone may begin, to some extent, to express their views about the Bible freely and without fear of punishment, precisely because the Bible’s interpretation does not now impact so directly on the survival and shape of the state itself. One’s views of the Bible are increasingly regarded as “private,” even where they are published.
Hence the use of pseudonyms, which continues today.
The 18th century also saw widespread pietism as well as the German Enlightenment which gave rise indirectly to political correctness and the cult of the child:
Among the most significant of the early 18th century European theologians was a German professor at the Pietist University of Halle named Siegmund Baumgarten (1706-1757). Baumgarten played an important role in making foreign theology known in Germany, especially the debates about the Bible which had been taking place in England; and he was thus an early facilitator of an important shift that takes place in 18th century intellectual life in Europe, by which the intellectual center of European philosophy (and theology) moved increasingly from Holland, Britain and France to Germany. Once rooted in German soil, the new ideas quickly developed and flourished within the context of a new “back to the sources” movement of the kind that we noted during the Renaissance and Reformation. Philosophy begins to give way to history as the handmaiden of theology, and history indeed becomes a weapon deployed against the arguments of the Enlightenment rationalists, in much the same way that Simon had earlier used it to opposed Spinoza. A good case in point is Johann Semler (1725-1791), a student of Baumgarten’s in Halle. Faced with the arguments of the English Deists and of Voltaire in France (1694-1778) that not everything in the Bible is improving or inspiring, Semler’s response was to focus on the historical circumstances that led to the origin of a biblical text and to ask: how were the cultural assumptions and immediate concerns that motivated writers different from the thought-world of the modern interpreter? The Bible thus examined could be seen to be the product of historical processes in a small ancient Near Eastern nation whose actions and beliefs did not always correspond to the nature of the God whom they worshipped, and indeed whose laws were laid down for particular circumstances that no longer apply. This last point was also made forcefully by Johann Michaelis (1717-1791), another of Baumgarten’s students, who argued that Israelite laws were quite reasonable when seen in their own historical context, but that they should not determine what 18th century European states should do … The Bible had ceased to be, for many people, the one document in which all knowledge could be assumed to be rooted, even where it retained its authority with respect to matters of religious faith and morals. It had become, even more clearly than in any preceding period, a document from the past which at least to some extent must be studied according to the normal procedures employed in studying any ancient text, in order to see which kind of knowledge, and how much of it, it could add to the modern knowledge-pool. Its truthfulness and its usefulness had to be determined. It was no longer presupposed.
We’re now approaching Modernism. Remember that Marxism was embryonic in the 19th century and grew quickly. And, yes, there is the mention of ‘evolution’:
4. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the acceleration of these trends; but for the sake of time I will not speak in detail about those centuries now. Let me simply say that the extent of the historical analysis to which the Bible has become subject in these centuries is truly astonishing. This is the period in which the Bible itself ceases to be the only real substantive source of information about the non-Graeco-Roman ancient world – the period of the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics and of Mesopotamian cuneiform; the period of better access to the key texts of the Eastern religions, and to the world of so-called “primitive” religions; the age in which science came into its own as a discipline distinct from philosophy, gradually coming to dominate the world of the university; the age, specifically, of Darwinian evolution. Information and ideas were produced at ever-increasing speeds and indeed disseminated at ever-increasing speeds, as first steam-powered presses produced more and more books more cheaply; then newspapers became widely affordable and transportation and communications by rail and sea improved, and regular mail services took off, allowing greater scholarly contact than ever before; and then of course many more recent significant developments. This vast increase in knowledge and in access to knowledge has not helped the Bible’s cause in the public domain in the West, or in other parts of the world either, where it is nowadays either not read at all or survives only as interesting ancient literature which may perhaps also be inspiring. If it is read as literature, however, the story world of the Bible is certainly regarded as having little to do with the real world as defined by science and history. That late-modern and postmodern acceptance of such a profound a dichotomy between the real world and the story world of the Bible is actually already foreshadowed among the 18th century Romantics. I’m thinking here of someone like Johann Goethe (1749-1832). For Goethe, the Bible was certainly not a source of doctrine or history; but it remained a literary work that inspired him with its images and poetry. Goethe left the “outer form” of the biblical material to the critics, while focusing on what he thought of as the inner core that no external concern could destroy. Goethe is interesting for all sorts of other reasons as well, not least his early work on evolution, which influenced Darwin, and his work on philosophy, which impacted both Hegel and Nietzsche.
It was bound to happen. However, as I’ve mentioned before, do the creeds mention a Young Earth creation? If we truly believe that God created the world we know today — does it matter how He did it or when (e.g. post-flood)? What do we really know about hominids and homo sapiens? I do not mean to offend anyone, but does it matter that scientists have discovered common DNA between us and worms? Is our bodily composition important? ‘Dust to dust’? God gave humans their souls. He thereby distinguished us from the animal kingdom.
5. Retrospective and Prospective
… That’s how we got here. “What Are We (as Christians) To Do” about it? Well again, no doubt the answer to that question is also complicated and not capable of simple expression. But let me propose at least one, centrally important thing that I think we must do. And it is this: we need to reaffirm our ancient Christian commitment to the integrity of truth. Specifically, I want to suggest that in so far as what has been discovered about the world between 1648 and the present, and about the Bible in relation to the world, whenever it has been discovered – in so far as it is true, it is to be welcomed … because it is true; and all truth is God’s truth.
… Outright rejection has seemed easier than careful consideration of the data, to see how it might fit within a Christian, indeed a biblical world-view. Countless examples could be generated. Let me briefly mention three, one of which (at least) will be well known to you. When Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was first thinking about and planning his Atlantic exploration, it is reported that one of the committees set up to investigate his plans responded to his belief that an “Antipodes” or second continent might exist with the following dismissal: “St. Augustine doubts it.” The discoveries of Columbus and others not only demonstrated that St. Augustine’s doubts were without foundation, but also raised questions about the kind of information the Bible provided about the world, and for many ultimately cast doubt on the Bible. Nevertheless, when Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), looked through his telescope saw things that suggested that the cosmology of his day was mistaken, as were current understandings of Psalms 93 and 104 and Ecclesiastes 1:5 (which appear to speak of the motion of celestial bodies and the suspended position of the earth), he got himself into significant trouble, as you will know. Likewise, the date of 4004 B.C. for the creation of the world, calculated by James Ussher (1581-1656) in the early 17th century and included in the page margins of many versions of the King James Version dating from 1700 onwards, remained widely accepted long after modern geology had suggested that the world was much older than Ussher’s dates allowed.
These are illustrations, only, of an obscurantist streak in Christian thinking throughout the ages – a wrong kind of conservatism. I propose a different way of approaching things. In so far as what has been discovered about the world and about the Bible in relation to the world is true, I suggest, it is to be welcomed – because it is true, and all truth is God’s truth ...
I mean only this: that the Bible that we receive from Christ and his apostles, in which and through which God speaks and to which we assign ultimate authority as the great story within which we live out our lives-this Bible that speaks to us from God is literature: one book, and yet also many books. To hear God speak, all these texts through which He speaks must be understood for what they are and we must be careful to identify what they are not. This inevitably involves biblical hermeneutics in historical study ...
Thank you, Dr Provan!
Is this a capitulation to the Enlightenment, to Modernity and indeed to Postmodernity? I do not believe so. I believe that it is simply a recovery of a more authentic Christianity than the one we sometimes see around us, which embraces truth where it finds it and seeks to integrate it within the Christian story. And this recovery of authentic Christianity is not just important for us; it is missionally important as well … When Christians narrow their view of truth, then, and indeed give the impression that they alone are the possessors of all of it while appearing to others in fact to be deniers of significant aspects of it, this inevitably does little to advocate the Christian world-view. Christians are then seen as opponents of truth and indeed as the purveyors only of prejudice, and as such they are perceived as dangerous people, especially when they are in possession of power …
When I was growing up Young Earth thinking didn’t exist outside of isolated pockets of literalist biblical fundamentalism. Intelligent Design certainly didn’t exist.
God is infinitely more intelligent than we will ever comprehend. Several Catholic and Protestant [especially Calvinist] documents from the 20th century allow their respective members to adhere to varying interpretations of Genesis 1 as long as they believe that God authored creation.
Going further back to the 5th century, even St Augustine warned Christians about misusing the Creation account in Genesis. I’ll explore that in a separate post.
As I have said before, it is not the theories over the past few centuries which have presented problems but what we do with them — as believers, agnostics or atheists.
Another Easter passes and, with it, no shortage of Episcopal Church closures in the United States.
Americans of a certain age remember the friendly signs with the Episcopalian shield which read:
The Episcopal Church welcomes you
Those, sadly, will go the way of the Burma Shave signs and the dodo.
Where we travel in the US, the Episcopal signs no longer exist. I wonder why … when all one has to read is Virtue Online (David Virtue, that is) for the latest closures:
Virginia City, Nevada – February 2013 – Please pray for the faithful as they struggle to keep St Paul’s the Prospector open:
Right now, the small parish, which was founded in 1861, is struggling to preserve its church, built in 1876 after the original structure was destroyed in the famous Virginia City fire of 1875. Attendance at Sunday services might number only a dozen or so people with a collection of $60 or so, said parishioner Helen Sundt.
Foremost on the list of things to do is to upgrade the church’s massively outdated electrical system. The cost of fixing it will run about $400, but only because a friend of the church is donating his labor, said the Rev. Ken Curtis, pastor.
Avon, Connecticut – December 2012 – Christ Episcopal Church closed:
The Rev. Halsey (“Chip”) Stevens III retired as priest-in-charge last December. Rev. Peter Stebinger has been serving as chaplain for Christ Church since then.
Canaan, Connecticut – February 2013 – This Christ Church hangs by a thread:
If, indeed, the church closes, the effect will ripple through the community. Its faithful congregants will be most directly affected, deprived of the spiritual comfort of a beautiful sanctuary where some of them were baptized and married. A classic stone church, based on the design of Richard Upjohn, the American architect who pioneered the restoration of Gothic architecture for American churches, its construction materials were dug out of Canaan’s rocky hills and it has been a defining presence in the center of Canaan for 168 years. Without its congregation it will become a hollow presence, another rent in the fabric of the town.
Erie, Pennsylvania – February 2013 – The Church of the Holy Spirit closed:
‘Sunday, February 10 is our last day of worship at our church at 501 West 31st Street. From this point on, we will be worshiping with the congregation of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church at 4701 Old French Road,’ said a terse statement at the church’s website.
Totowa, New Jersey – January 2013: Another Christ Church closed its doors after 91 years:
There are not enough parishioners and is not enough money to keep the church going, according to Reverend Mark Waldon, who leads the church.
There are 15 to 20 worshipers on any particular Sunday, he said. While the priest, who has been a member of the church clergy since 1969, can remember a time when there were about 75 church-goers on the typical Sunday.
Gerhardt attributes the decline in membership to the aging population of the church.
Or, perhaps, in some cases, there is something else afoot. The general timbre of the Episcopal Church, maybe?
With a tip of the hat to my Lutheran friend, Dr Gregory Jackson, we find spurious postmodern accounts of the Resurrection at no less than … the Episcopal Cathedral in Washington, DC, featuring their Bishop, Marianne Budde. An Episcopalian, Dr David Virtue (‘VOL’ below), has a go at the bishop.
Excerpts follow, emphases mine:
Washington Episcopal Bishop Marianne Budde, writing in her blog on the subject of Resurrection, opined that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it, the entire enterprise would not come crashing down.
VOL: Actually, Bishop it would. Our faith would be in vain and we would be of all men (and women) most miserable. St. Paul writes in I Cor. 15, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
BUDDE: Someone once asked me if I thought the resurrection was necessary. He meant it in the most sincere way, as a person of both faith and doubt who wondered if we needed to be bound by so unreasonable a proposition that Jesus’ tomb was, in fact, empty on that first Easter morning. I hesitated in answering because there seemed to be layers of argument behind the question. My answer was yes, resurrection is the foundation of Christian faith, but probably not in the way he meant it.
VOL: What way is that, Bishop?
BUDDE: To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down. The truth is that we don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death, any more than we can know what will happen to us. What we do know from the stories handed down is how Jesus’ followers experienced his resurrection. What we know is how we experience resurrection ourselves.
VOL: Total rubbish, Bishop. This is pure solipsism and subjectivism. (See above.) There were eyewitnesses to the event. The Bible says the risen Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene and other women. Even the apostles did not believe Mary when she told them the tomb was empty. Jesus, who always had special respect for these women, honored them as the first eyewitnesses to his resurrection. Now I would have thought, Bishop that you, as a raging feminist, would have latched onto that if for no other reason than that women were the first to see and believe. The male Gospel writers had no choice but to report this embarrassing act of God’s favor, because that was how it happened. Your argument also completely ignores the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection that no serious theologian has ever really denied (and please don’t defer to Spong or Countrymen as they are jokes). St. Paul through Augustine to Cranmer, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Billy Graham and Rick Warren and tens of thousands of archbishops, bishops and laity in between, have all affirmed the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Not a single Pope has ever denied it.
“How we experience resurrection ourselves…” could just as easily apply to ice cream or a good steak dinner. Building your argument on experience is as vacuous and empty-headed as a teenager announcing he’s hungry after quaffing down an entire 5-course dinner (with seconds) and then declaring that his experience tells him that he wants more.
One Episcopal theologian upon reading Bishop Budde’s take wrote to VOL, “Judicious, seemingly reasonable — and utterly inadequate. We ‘don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death’? Really? Why bother?”
VOL: Actually, Bishop, it is not our “self-consciousness” that is the problem. It is our SINFULNESS …
Your views border on the heresy of Docetism, Bishop, a view that held that the disciples thought his body had been actually reanimated. Docetism taught that Jesus only appeared to have a body, that he was not really incarnate, (Greek, “dokeo” = “to seem”). This error developed out of the dualistic philosophy which viewed matter as inherently evil, that God could not be associated with matter, and that God, being perfect and infinite, could not suffer. Therefore, God as the word, could not have become flesh per John 1:1,14, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.. ” This denial of a true incarnation meant that Jesus did not truly suffer on the cross and that He did not rise from the dead.
The basic principle of Docetism was refuted by the Apostle John in 1 John 4:2-3. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”
There are at least seven proofs for the Resurrection Proof that would be well worth your while declaiming from the pulpit in Washington National Cathedral, bishop, and they are these:
#1: The Empty Tomb of Jesus
#2: The Holy Women Eyewitnesses
#3: Jesus’ Apostles’ New-Found Courage
#4: Changed Lives of James and Others
#5: Large Crowd of Eyewitnesses
#6: Conversion of Paul
#7: They Died for Jesus
If you don’t, Bishop, your diocese will continue to rot from the inside out and, in time, die.
Oh, yes, that is a very real possibility, indeed. This is why I urge readers to study the Bible, not their favourite popular authors’ opinions on the Bible. (That said, one will need solid commentaries by proper biblical scholars.)
A number of ignorant Episcopalian clergy wonder what is happening to their congregations. The alert, Bible-believing ones work to repair the damage in their own with scriptural preaching and pragmatic godliness.
It’s interesting that Virtue’s commenters linked ‘white women”s activities to closures, dating from the temperance movement of the 19th century to 20th century holy orders and, from there, to 21st century apostasy. Hmm. I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
My only riposte would be that, whilst I agree, there have been many men of different races who have travelled — and continue to pursue — that same road. I’ve known a few personally.
I realise that that Global South (‘developing world’) understands the clarity between good and evil much better than many Westerners do — partly because of their personal circumstances — but do they have an answer for Westerners balanced on a theological-philosophical plane? How can we in the West persuade our clergy out of the postmodern revisionism of the 20th century back to the eternal truth of Scripture?
If that sounded Episcopalian or Anglican, it was meant so to do.
This is where the Anglican Communion in the West finds itself in the present day.
Lord, who will answer?
It’s a once in a lifetime that we have the installation of a new Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) in one week.
Not having seen an ‘enthronement’ before, I tuned in to the BBC. (The link to the programme expires on March 28, 2013.) Huw Edwards, newsreader, hosted a panel of three Anglicans: the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, KCVO, former Bishop of Manchester; Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops Council and the Revd Dr Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral who was in place during Occupy.
Before the ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral (Kent), Edwards asked the three for their impressions thus far of Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. McCulloch said that Welby is ‘incisive’ and has a ‘firm commitment to the Gospel’, adding, ‘There is a great honesty about him’.
Rees said she thought that Welby’s business background would help him to take tough decisions. (He was an executive at Enterprise Oil.) She thinks he will break with tradition and take risks.
Fraser admired Welby’s ‘very human quality’ and said that he ‘is not afraid of his own authority’.
When asked about the challenges Welby would face as ABC, Rees thought the issue of women bishops would top the list. Fraser disagreed, saying that the primary concern was ‘reconciling Christian faith to an increasingly sceptical world’.
The ceremony was in the afternoon. In the morning, Welby went off for a jog in Canterbury. Edwards asked him for a brief interview. Welby told Edwards that the ceremony would be a commitment in prayer which would join people from around the Anglican Communion acknowledging their own weakness and God’s love. He said that the ceremony would exhibit ‘simplicity’, adding:
From me, there will be an emphasis on prayer, reconciliation and telling people about the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Edwards asked him if he considered himself an evangelical. As I strongly dislike the word being used by Anglicans to describe themselves (let’s continue with ‘low church’), I was relieved to hear him acknowledge that it can cause people to bristle:
‘Evangelical’ carries with it a vast amount of baggage. I would describe myself as an orthodox Christian. I’ve always drawn on the widest traditions of the Church.
As to the future of the Anglican Communion, he said:
In the grace of God, we will find a way forward.
With regard to what people should take away from his installation service, Welby told Edwards:
When we base our lives on Jesus Christ, we need not be afraid … In Christ, there is no fear.
The enthronement ceremony begins with the ABC-elect knocking on the door to the west entrance of Canterbury Cathedral. Later, he undergoes two installations: the first as the Bishop of the See of Canterbury and the second in the mediaeval marble chair of St Augustine as Primate of England and Metropolitan — the Anglican Communion.
The Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, the Very Revd Robert Willis, had a prominent role to play, not only during the service, but also in showing the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall (as well as other dignitaries) to their seats.
The Rev Canon John Rees, Principal Registrar of the Province of Canterbury, read the formal mandate for Welby’s installation before Welby approached the West entrance to the building. Anglican bishops were in place at the altar. Special guests, dignitaries and Welby’s wife, daughters and son were in the choir stalls.
After Canon Rees read the mandate, the cathedral choir sang the first hymn, which Willis composed: ‘I Am the Light’.
Willis and the clergy then processed to the West door as Welby, outside the cathedral’s Old Palace with his chaplains, walked towards it. This is the first time a woman has been among them — the Revd Jo Bailey Wells.
Once at the West door, Welby knocked on it with the pointy end of his crook. The door opened and Welby stood in the entrance with a faint smile on his face.
In Anglican tradition, an ABC is asked why he is presenting himself and if he is of sound mind. Normally, a clergyman asks these questions. On this occasion, Welby chose a 17-year old girl, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, whose parents had emigrated from Sri Lanka and are active members of the Cathedral congregation.
Welby replied (emphases mine):
I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ … and I come as one seeking the grace of God to travel with you in His service together.
I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified and in weakness and in fear and much trembling.
With Welby still standing in the entrance, the cathedral choir of men and boys sang another hymn. They were glorious, by the way — marvellous, on-key, magnificent from start to finish. I really felt transported to Heaven listening to them.
Afterward, Welby offered intercessory prayers:
Turn to us again, O God our Saviour and let Your anger cease from us. Lord have mercy …
Show us your compassion, Lord, and grant us Your salvation. Lord have mercy …
The Dean — Willis — officially welcomed Welby to the cathedral. Welby replied:
With all my heart, I thank you for your welcome. May the peace of God be upon this house and upon this company.
At this point, everyone sang the processional hymn — Isaac Watts’s ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ (Rockingham). The clergy and Welby walked down the aisle towards the altar.
Welby knelt before the altar. The Dean moved around to face him and ask for God’s blessing for Welby as ABC. The congregation then recited the Lord’s Prayer.
In the Anglican Church, March 21 is the feast day of both St Benedict and of Thomas Cranmer (burnt at the stake on this day). The Dean read out both names, saying:
… Benedict, Abbot of Monte Cassino, patron saint of Europe, ‘whose rule continues to influence the life of the Church … and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, whose Book of Common Prayer shaped the worship of the Church of England.
He then read the Collects, the first for St Benedict and the second for Thomas Cranmer.
The choir then sang ‘Come, Holy Ghost’ (Veni, Creator Spiritus).
Afterward, the Most Revd Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, read the Declaration of Assent. To this, Welby affirmed his
faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds.
The Dean then read the Oath of Loyalty (to the Gospel) and held the ancient Canterbury Gospels before Welby. Welby kissed one of the open pages. The Canterbury Gospels were brought to Britain by St Augustine in 597.
A new addition to the ceremony was Welby’s signing of the Ecumenical Covenant with England’s Churches Together, a group of 38 Christian denominations. Archbishop Gregorios of the Greek Orthodox Church of Thyateira and Great Britain and the Revd Michael Heanery, the Moderator of the Free Churches Group made the presentation.
The first lesson came from the Book of Ruth and was read by the Rt Revd Jana Jeruma Grinberga, Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Great Britain. This is some of what she read from Ruth 2:
2And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. 4And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” 5Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest” …
17So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law,”May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”
The choir then sang Psalm 8, which includes the verse:
9O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, read the next lesson, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21:
16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The congregation then sang ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ (Aurelia), one of my favourite hymns.
The two installations took place afterward. For these, the clergy went up a set of steps to another part of the cathedral. Welby went to a pulpit-type structure where the first female Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Venerable Sheila Ann Watson, administered the Oath of the See of Canterbury, thereby inducting Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. This was the first installation.
Welby then received the blessing from the Dean of the Province of Canterbury and Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres.
Dean Willis then presented Welby with the pastoral crook of the See of Canterbury.
The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott prayed his blessing for Welby.
The next musical interlude was a hymn from the Global South (‘developing world’) called ‘Saranam Saranam’.
After this, the second installation took place, that of the ancient marble chair of St Augustine. Welby sat down. Willis took his hand and read out the oath of installation for Primate of all England and Metropolitan. This has to do with the governance of the wider Anglican Communion.
The Archbishop of Burundi, the Most Rev Bernard Ntahoturi, then gave Welby a blessing, praying in French.
Welby then affirmed that he would work together within the Anglican Communion as well as with other denominations.
Then, a few things happened which, for me, ruined the solemnity of the service. The first was everyone applauding Welby, which Huw Edwards told us was ‘tradition’. Really? I was brought up not to applaud in church. Thankfully, one of the few not to was Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The Prince of Wales did so only slightly.
The next thing everyone did was to exchange the Peace — a handshake — an execrable practice.
Afterward, the choir sang a hymn called ‘In Christ Alone’ which could have been used as a signature tune for a Western, especially with the trumpets in the background. It reminded me of Bonanza. Terrible.
This was followed by the African dance and drum troupe from London, Frititti, who performed something called ‘A New Beginning’. It was clearly syncretic. It would have been fine in a secular environment but looked totally wrong inside God’s house. I have no idea if it was Christian. It certainly didn’t look that way. It didn’t sound very happy, either, but Welby has a much greater appreciation of drums than I do from his time in Africa.
Welby read the Gospel passage, Matthew 14:22-33, which describes what took place after Jesus fed the 5,000:
Jesus Walks on the Water
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Frititti closed their drum and dance performance. Camilla nearly had a fit of the giggles. Most of the congregation looked rather ill at ease.
Welby then gave his sermon which was much better than I was expecting. It was Christocentric, grace-filled and spoke to the aforementioned Bible readings.
He opened by saying, ‘We are an international community’. He referred to the Gospel and spoke against fear, as Peter had when he realised he was walking on water in a storm. Welby said that Jesus Christ ‘liberates living courage’:
Each of us needs to get out of the boat and go to Him.
He emphasised that Christianity was the basis for British law and that we can face our challenges only with the courage that a belief in Christ will give us. He also referred to Pope Francis’s sermon discussing our role as protectors ‘under the authority of God’.
Welby likened Ruth’s experience in Boaz’s foreign fields to that of today’s refugees who are in a strange land but said that these situations can work out well provided that the lands which receive them are ‘based on allegiance to God’. He added that if we sever our roots in Christ we inhibit our ability to take good decisions:
Heed His words and we will have the courage to build a society in stability.
He then called us to reconcile ourselves, then others, to Christ. Only then, he said, can we begin to ‘change the world’. In this respect, he referred to St Benedict whose Rule has had a profound effect on the world at large and to Thomas Cranmer whose Book of Common Prayer is also known and used worldwide.
Welby then mentioned that as many Christians are martyred now as in the past. Even so, the Church still manages to transform society. Later, one of the panellists said that more Christians have been martyred in the 20th and 21st centuries than in all the preceding two millennia.
Welby discussed the many charitable work Church agencies accomplish and how a government mindful of Christ’s teachings can make a positive contribution (e.g. ending slavery, the NHS).
He closed by saying we are called to reach out ‘amidst the waves’ for ‘the hand of Christ’ and ‘we will see a world transformed’.
What followed was a beautiful organ solo, a solemn ‘improvisation in the French tradition’ based on themes from the sermon.
Several members from the greater Anglican Communion presented their country’s symbolic gift, placing them on the altar. These included a Jerusalem cross (from Jerusalem), blessed water for unity (from the Americas), a container for milk or water (Kenya), a picture made of grains of rice symbolising life (Hong Kong) and a woodcarving of people working which represented peace (Democratic Republic of Congo).
The congregation then recited the Nicene Creed. After that, the choir sang ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ (Britten).
Three young people then read out prayers for the Church and the world which concluded with the prayer of general thanksgiving from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
Afterward, the choir sang a hymn which Welby’s mother and stepfather commissioned called ‘Listen, Listen, O My Child’ (Berkeley).
Welby gave the two final blessings. In between them, the congregation sang a Charles Wesley and Thomas Campbell hymn, ‘And Can It Be?’ (Sagina).
There was more applause just before the organ recessional.
Outside, the cathedral bells were ringing — as close to divine a sound as one can get, next to Canterbury Cathedral choir.
Back in the studio, Huw Edwards talked with the panel. McCulloch liked the emphasis on faith in Christ giving us courage and perseverance. He said that if Welby takes that message to heart ‘with God’s grace’, he will do well as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Rees also like the many references to faith in Christ and echoed Welby’s optimism about the future of the Church.
Fraser demurred, saying that he had hope for the Church but he was not optimistic. He also appreciated the reminder about the many present-day Christian martyrs.
Asked to describe Welby in one word, McCulloch said ‘engaging’, Rees said ‘purposeful’ and Fraser said ‘determined’.
Incidentally, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams — not at the service — has a new title: Baron Williams of Oystermouth.
The ancient ceremony of the Churching of Women is no longer used in the Anglican Communion.
In recent years, the Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child has replaced it. These prayers are said during a Sunday service, which involves the whole family.
In the 20th century, both feminists and clergy objected to the Churching of Women which they believed denigrated women, suggesting the necessity for personal purification and supplication.
However, a two-part essay from 1995 by Natalie Knödel from Durham University questions whether postmodernists really grasped the ceremony’s significance. Whilst she acknowledges that it could be construed as being devised by men as a statement about women’s sin dating from Eve, her research has uncovered that, centuries ago, women considered it as their day to celebrate with each other.
Those who are interested in Church history and traditions or in women’s relationship with the Church will find Knödel’s essay ‘The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women’ of interest: parts 1 and 2.
As I mentioned at the end of last week in my Candlemas post, Mary went to the Temple 40 days after giving birth to Jesus. This was after her ritual purification as mandated in Leviticus and Exodus. After her ritual bath — mikvah — on the appropriate day, she could once again be accepted into the Temple for public worship. However, the infant Jesus also had to be presented at the Temple on the same day. Joseph accompanied both; he might have been asked to read from the Torah. Whilst Catholics put the emphasis of February 2 on Mary, Protestants who commemorate the feast day place more importance on Jesus’s Presentation.
From the example of the Holy Family, it would appear that today’s brief ceremony of the Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child is truer to St Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2) than the Churching of Women which came about centuries later.
Knödel tells us that sequestering a woman who had given birth and welcoming her back into society was and, in some cases, a part of cultures around the world. Childbirth, then and now, is still fraught with risk for millions of women and newborns. It is something which men fear; only recently have they been encouraged to be present in Western delivery rooms. (Watching a film of an actual childbirth as I did at university is a harrowing experience. You’ll either really want children or be put off for life — no pun intended. It is bloody and gory for some and ‘absolutely beautiful’ for others.) Therefore, some societies designate a specific day on which they reintegrate the mother into daily life. This means they can work in the fields or tend house once again.
With regard to Europe and Christianity of the Middle Ages, Knödel points out that the Church had laws in place to protect pregnant women. Expectant mothers were relieved of the obligation to fast and anyone who beat them was subject to ecclesiastical punishment.
In the early Church up to the Middle Ages, prayers during a service involving a newborn focussed on the churching of the child rather than the mother. Often this was part of the christening ceremony. However, privately at home, various prayers and rituals revolved around the mother’s safe delivery. Some of these prayer sessions involved intercessions to St Anne, Mary’s mother. Other women prayed that St Margaret of Antioch — patron saint of childbirth — intercede. It was not uncommon for women in these home prayer groups to place small written blessings on the womb of the mother.
Meanwhile, during this era of home ceremonies, clergy were debating the day when new mothers should reappear in church. Augustine of Canterbury asked Pope Gregory the Great for his advice on the matter. The Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England records that Pope Gregory — in a minority of clergy — believed that sternly forbidding the woman to return to church before a certain time would intimate that she was personally guilty of Eve’s sin, thereby turning this sequestration period into a punishment. A more usual tack taken by clergy and emperors was to forbid their presence for 40 days and grant a home visit for Communion only if the women were very ill or dying. Others allowed the women to appear in church but seated with unbaptised enquirers — catechumens — meaning that they could not receive Communion.
Around the 11th century, receiving mothers back into the church was codified as a separate ceremony. Clergy developed various rules, including a special pew — ‘churching seat’ – where the women sat or placement at the entrance of the church (in the back, separate from husband and family) and a certain type of veil for them to wear. Where mothers were allowed to receive Holy Communion, some churches set aside a certain part of the altar rail for them.
Once the rite was codified, it focussed on the mother, not the child. In pre-Reformation England, the Sarum Missal was widely used. Whilst called a ‘benediction’, the Sarum rite for the churching of women started with a purification ritual whereby the priest sprinkled or placed holy water on the woman. She stood outside of the church whilst he did this. Once the holy water was administered, she could then go inside.
During the Reformation, the holy water element was dispensed with as it was seen as a ‘magical’ Catholic superstition. However, the earliest editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer retained most of the Sarum rite. The Puritans later objected to the Churching of Women, asking why childbirth was so special and, interestingly, why prayers should be said on every occasion.
Therefore, during the Interregnum (Cromwell’s rule between Charles I’s beheading and Charles II’s Restoration in the 17th century), the Puritans banned the Book of Common Prayer and with it the Churching of Women. By that time, however, the ceremony had become a traditional event which women enjoyed. It was a ‘girls’ day out’, because the father and baby were not necessarily required to attend church on that day. This meant that the mother and her lady friends — ‘gossips’ (a corruption of Godspeaks) or ‘goodies’ (goodwomen) — could go to church and celebrate afterwards, probably at someone’s home. Given that information, it comes as no surprise when Knödel reveals that it was common for women in Puritan times to ask an Anglican priest to perform the ceremony in secret.
Two years into the Restoration, Charles II issued a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Anglicans still use his 1662 version today. It includes the Churching of Women. Puritans who were still in England at the time refused to have their women churched, running the risk of church discipline. Yet, even the Anglicans who went to the American colonies included the rite in their Prayer Book of 1789. It remained in subsequent Amerian editions until 1979, when it was replaced with A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child.
As stated above, the Anglican Communion has returned to a set of prayers and Psalms which focus on the child, as Candlemas does on February 2 with the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The Roman Catholic church includes a prayer of blessing for the family as part of the baptismal ceremony.
Whether the emphasis lay on the mother or child, the Church has recognised God in creating human life, His goodness in granting a safe delivery and thanksgiving that He preserves both the life of the mother and child.
At this point, you might be wondering what happened where births out of wedlock or where the deaths of mother or child were involved. Where the old rite of the Churching of Women was concerned, Knödel writes that unmarried mothers were required to appear in church and confess their sin of fornication before being churched. A mother could still be churched even if her newborn had since died; the ceremony focussed on the mother, not the child. In the event that the mother died, whilst some churches allowed a substitute lady to be churched in the mother’s place, the Church of England frowned on the practice. Although interred in the church graveyard, unchurched mothers were sometimes buried in a section apart from other church members and women of childbearing age — 15 to 45 — were instructed not to enter that part of the cemetery.
In closing, what follows are excerpts of the 1662 prayers and Psalms for the Churching of Women. Note how thanksgiving is very much a part of the ceremony — and the ‘quiver full’ verse in Psalm 127:
The Woman, at the usual time after her Delivery, shall come into the Church decently apparelled, and there shall kneel down in some convenient place, as hath been accustomed, or as the Ordinary shall direct: And then the Priest shall say unto her,
ORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God of his goodness to give you safe deliverance, and hath preserved you in the great danger of Child-birth: you shall therefore give hearty thanks unto God …
(Then shall the Priest say the 116th Psalm.) Dilexi quoniam.
AM well pleased: that the Lord hath heard the voice of my prayer;
That he hath inclined his ear unto me: therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.
The snares of death compassed me round about: and the pains of hell gat hold upon me.
I found trouble and heaviness, and I called upon the Name of the Lord: 0 Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous: yea, our God is merciful.
The Lord preserveth the simple: I was in misery, and he helped me.
Turn again then unto thy rest, 0 my soul: for the Lord hath rewarded thee …
Or, Psalm 127. Nisi Dominus.
XCEPT the Lord build the house: their labour is but lost that build it.
Except the Lord keep the city: the watchman waketh but in vain.
It is but lost labour that ye haste to rise up early, and so late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
Lo, children and the fruit of the womb: are an heritage and gift that cometh of the Lord.
Like as the arrows in the hand of the giant: even so are the young children.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate …
Minister. Let us pray.
ALMIGHTY God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast vouchsafed to deliver this woman thy servant from the great pain and peril of Child-birth: Grant, we beseech thee, most merciful Father, that she, through thy help, may both faithfully live, and walk according to thy will, in this life present; and also may be partaker of everlasting glory in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Woman, that cometh to give her thanks, must offer accustomed offerings; and, if there be a Communion, it is convenient that she receive the holy Communion
The mother’s offering to the church was generally the cap or alb (robe) in which her child was christened.
My very best wishes to all my readers for a very happy 2013!
Historically, the Church commemorated Jesus’s circumcision on this day.
Since the Renaissance (specifically, the papacy of Pius V), the Catholic Church has designated this day as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.
It was usual for, if not mandated that, Christians attend church on New Year’s Day as a refusal to descend into the pagan revelry associated with the New Year. Penance and fasting were also part of the commemoration of this day in the early Church.
My mother learned to sing this carol in Latin, customary in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church when it was ‘Adeste Fideles’. In fact, she never really got to grips with the English words and at times muttered quietly about the loss of the Latin lyrics at Christmas Mass.
Little did she — or I — know about the history of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, sung here by King’s College Choir, Cambridge. Also noteworthy is the organist’s mastery of David Willcocks’s arrangement — wow!
It would have surprised my mother to find that a Catholic priest wrote the English lyrics to this carol. Frederick Oakeley, received his Classics degree from Christ Church, Oxford, in 1824. After his ordination in the Church of England, he became a fellow and the chaplain to Balliol College. From 1827, Oakeley became interested in the tractarian — Oxford — movement, known as High Church Anglicanism. This caused him no end of controversy in a subsequent appointment as the minister of Margaret Chapel, where he served between 1839-1845. During that time he added various elements of High Church worship to the services and met with accusations of ‘ritualism’. Oakeley moved so closely to the Roman Catholic Church that his clerical orders were withdrawn until such time as he would retract his beliefs.
Oakeley wasted no time in crossing the Tiber. In 1845, he joined John Henry Newman’s religious community and was received into the Roman Catholic Church. He attended seminary and was ordained in 1848, at which point he began to serve at Catholic churches in London. Thirty years before his death in 1880, he was appointed a canon of the Diocese of Westminster, a post in which he served faithfully.
‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ has several verses, not all of which are sung together. This is partly because the carol would take too much time to sing. The other reason is that not all the verses are intended for Christmas. One verse, for instance, is to be sung only at Midnight Mass or on Christmas Day. Another verse, the eighth, is intended solely for Epiphany services. Oakeley translated the verses we use most commonly today from Latin into English. Other lyricists were responsible for writing or translating additional verses.
That much is straightforward. The authorship of the music to ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ is less clear. Most music scholars today agree that a Catholic layman, John Francis Wade, is the author of the carol we know today. Before that, the English composer John Reading, an Anglican, was also thought to have written the melody. King John IV of Portugal’s name has also been considered. John IV was a composer in his own right and owned one of the largest libraries of music in the world at that time. John IV’s daughter Catherine of Braganza, incidentally, was the wife of England’s Charles II. The two married several years after John’s death.
Now let us look at the life of John Francis Wade (1711-1786). Although he was English, it is unclear whether he was born in England or in Douai, in northern France. In any event, he was a Jacobite, and, if he was born in France, his parents might well have been sympathetic to the cause. The Jacobite movement started when Charles II’s brother, James II of England, was deposed by Queen Mary II and King William III. (We know them today collectively as William and Mary.)
The Jacobite movement is complex and combined various alliances of British Catholics and Protestants for either religious or political reasons. Catholics, like Wade, wanted a restoration of Stuart successors because they would be more sympathetic to their religious practice. The French allied with the Jacobites and planned to invade Britain. Bonnie Prince Charlie — James II’s grandson, Charles Edward Stuart — was seen to be as the hope of this movement in its later years. He instigated the Jacobite Uprising of 1745, which ended in defeat at the Battle of Culloden (emphasis on the second syllable, which is pronounced ‘lud’).
During the height of this struggle, however, Jacobites communicated with each other in coded language. ‘Bethlehem’ meant ‘England’. Published hymns and poems were embellished with Stuart imagery — oak leaves and white roses — to denote that they contained Jacobite messages. ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ was one of these. It was thought to have been Wade’s ode to the birth of Bonnie Prince Charlie, with ‘faithful’ referring to Jacobites.
Many years ago I read that ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ is Prince Charles’s favourite Christmas carol. Those who watch the BBC broadcast of Carols from King’s will know how beautifully King’s College Choir (Cambridge) sing it. Here is their 2006 video:
There turns out to be a Cambridge connection with this carol. George Ratcliffe Woodward read Classics at Gonville and Caius [pron. 'Keys'] College, Cambridge. He became a deacon in the Church of England in 1874 and was later ordained a priest. It would seem as if Woodward was a High Churchman, as both he and his wife are buried in Walsingham, Norfolk, which is known for its ancient priory and shrine to Our Lady.
Woodward had an avid interest in carols and plainsong. He liked to revive ancient songs and collaborated on several books of carols.
The composer Charles Wood also studied at Cambridge. He pursued his music studies at Selwyn College, where he also taught, before becoming Gonville and Caius’s first Director of Music and Organist. He devoted much of his time to writing arrangements for Anglican church music.
Wood and Woodward collaborated on the Cambridge Carol Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter and Other Seasons, published in 1924. The compilation included ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’, which could have appealed to Woodward’s interest in bellringing.
This carol falls into the Merry England category of resurrecting ancient songs and musical styles, popular during the Victorian era and continuing into the early 20th century. ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ came from a secular French tune. The website Hymns and Carols of Christmas explains:
This carol is a good example of a carol in the original sense of the word (i.e. a secular dance tune) evolving into a carol as it is understood today (i.e. a song for Christmas). The tune first appeared in the Orchesographie, a dance book written by Johan Tabourot (1519-93), a canon of Langres, under the anagram Thoinot Arbeau. ‘Branle l’Officiel’ was to be danced by ‘lackeys and serving wenches and sometimes by young men and maids of gentle birth masquerading as peasants and shepherd’. The dance title, though sometimes translated as ‘The Official Branle’ or ‘The Officers’ Brawl’ (Brawl being the appropriate translation of Branle), might better be translated as ‘The servants’ hall ( l’office) Branle/Brawl’. The very Victorian archaic English lyric was composed early in the 20th century by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934), the author of several carol books …
One of the most famous English carols of the past two centuries is ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’. King’s College Cambridge sing it for their televised carol service every year. Below is the video from 2008:
‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ was one of the ‘new’ carols composed in the late 18th and 19th centuries, creating a modern collection of Christmas hymns with a nod to the England before the Industrial Revolution.
The earliest publication of this particular carol was in 1760 and it was included in a compilation of these modern (at the time) Christmas songs which appeared between 1780 and 1800.
However, another source says that the lyrics are ‘traditional olde English’ and go back to the 15th century. If so, in its earliest incarnation, ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ could well have been sung by town watchmen who supplemented their income by carolling at the houses of the local gentry.
The title translates today as ‘may God keep you happy, gentlemen’ with the promise of His Son Jesus Christ. Although there are slight variations, the lyrics are largely consistent. British churches and choirs use the version which Oxford University Press (OUP) published in Carols for Choirs (1961), part of which appears below:
God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this day,
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.
From God our heavenly Father
A blessed angel came,
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same,
How that in Bethlehem was born The Son of God by name:
O tidings …
This is my favourite carol, largely because it is written in a minor key which evokes a centuries-old song tradition. Listening to it sung to a complex arrangement for organ makes the lyrics all the more meaningful and personal.
Indeed, this creation of carols which hearkened back to an older era was part of a Victorian movement known as Merry (Merrie) England. It was controversial then as it is now, derided by the Left (as it was by Friedrich Engels) and embraced by traditionalists of whatever political persuasion. It inspired the left-leaning William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Anglo-Catholics of the mid-19th century Oxford Movement were also drawn to it in their quest for greater social equality with a nod towards utopianism.
Merry England is thought to represent the nation between the years 1350 and 1700, so, from the late decades of Catholicism into the English Reformation, and, later, the restoration of the monarchy to the end of William and Mary’s reign. The focus, however, was on English life between the 14th and 16th centuries:
“Merry England” is not a wholly consistent vision but rather a revisited England which Oxford folklorist Roy Judge described as “a world that has never actually existed, a visionary, mythical landscape, where it is difficult to take normal historical bearings.” By contrast, Ronald Hutton‘s study of churchwardens’ accounts places the creation of “Merry England” in the years between 1350 and 1520, with the newly-elaborative annual festive round of the liturgical year, with candles and pageants, processions and games, boy bishops and decorated rood lofts. Hutton discovered that, far from being pagan survivals, many of the activities of popular piety criticised by sixteenth-century reformers were actually creations of the later Middle Ages and that “Merry England” reflects historical aspects of rural English folklore that were lost during industrialization. Favourable perceptions of Merry England reveal a nostalgia for aspects of an earlier society that are missing in modern times.
‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’ evokes this atmosphere. The carol became so popular that, by 1843, Charles Dickens included it in A Christmas Carol:
…at the first sound of — ‘God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’— Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.
William B Sandys (pron. ‘Sands’) was an English solicitor (lawyer) who compiled a selection of these ‘new’ yet seemingly ancient carols in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London, Richard Beckley, 1833). Emphases mine below:
Among the carols that made their first appearance here are the classics “The First Noel“, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen“, “I Saw Three Ships“, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing“. Some have the traditional forms of carols. Others are recognizably composed. In the current atmosphere of “Merry England” that included the revival of Christmas that was signalled by Charles Dickens‘ “A Christmas Carol“ (1843), they all quickly developed their present reputations for being sixteenth century or earlier.
A few decades later, Rev. Henry Ramsden Bramley (1833-1917) and Sir John Stainer (1840-1901) published their popular Victorian compilation of carols called Christmas Carols, New and Old. Both men were employed by Magdalen College, Oxford. Bramley was a Fellow and Tutor whilst Stainer was the College’s organist. Some carol books carry Stainer’s name next to ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’.
Their songbook became so widely used that the Revd Percy Dearmer — who earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at Christ Church, Oxford — referred to it and the two men in his preface to The Oxford Book of Carols, Oxford University Press, 1928, pp. xvi-xvii:
The second chapter of the revival [of the carol] in the nineteenth century opens in 1871 with the publication of forty-two Christmas Carols New and Old by the Rev. H. R. Bramley, Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Dr. John Stainer, then organist of the college. The influence of this book was enormous: it placed in the hands of the clergy…a really practicable tool, which came into general use, and is still in use after nearly sixty years. The great service done by this famous collection was that it brought thirteen traditional carols, with their proper music, into general use at once…It is…mainly to Bramley and Stainer that we owe the restoration of the carol…
Those in search of a term paper or thesis topic on the Victorian era, Merry England or Christmas carols will find a rich seam of associations with Oxford University‘s literary and musical heritage. Bramley and Stainer were influential in popularising carols which hearkened back to an older England. Dearmer endorsed them. The Anglo-Catholic movement, which also had its origins at Oxford, drew on Merry England’s kinder influences of community and charity. Both extended into the 20th century. J R R Tolkien (pron. ‘Tolkeen’), Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, also borrowed elements from Merry England:
Rather than a celebration of a narrow, anachronistic idealism, Tolkien’s works hinge upon his characters moving beyond that place of idealism into a broader, more complex interaction with the world.
Perhaps that is an idea we can transport from our Christmas experiences into our Christian walk in the year ahead.
Certainly, ‘God rest ye merry, Gentlemen’ carries joyful messages which are perfect for communicating the personal message of the Gospels, the Good News of Jesus Christ.