Rowan Williams I: Not going quietly
Rowan Williams was headline news in The Observer with a story about a book by him due out in September. According to the newspaper, the Archbishop is going to make his strongest attack yet on David Cameron’s flagship ‘big society’ policy, describing it as cover for the shrinking of state provision. Journalists on The Observer claimed to have had obtained passages from the book, ‘Faith in the Public Square’ in advance of publication. In fact, anyone going on the Lambeth Palace website can read whole chunks of the book in advance of publication. Most of it will be made up of papers Rowan Williams has already given during his time as Archbishop and is unlikely to contain much that is new. What is surprising is that Dr Williams has waited until now to publish in book form lectures and addresses that he has given during his time at Lambeth. It fell to James Macintyre, a journalist with a hot line to Lambeth Palace, to reveal in the ‘Prospect’ diary that Rowan Williams is about to publish a genuinely new book. ‘The Lion’s World: A Journey into the heart of Narnia’, a exploration of the symbolism of Narnia and of the ideas of CS Lewis, is to appear on 16 August. Williams is going to Lewis’ old Cambridge College as Master after a cliff-hanger of an election in which he had to struggle to gain the necessary support of two thirds of the fellows.
Rowan Williams II: Why we will miss him
Staying with Rowan Williams, there was evidence of the Archbishop at his most perceptive in an interview he gave to the ‘Evening Standard’ at the end of last week. On this occasion he allowed himself to express in public some of the anger he feels about the media that he has expressed in private. He told interviewer Richard Godwin that while he was getting inured to the way the press treated him, he got angry at the way the media stereotyped people (as in the London riots). His words on Dostoevsky deserve careful pondering. “Dostoevsky is an amazing analyst of cliché, of the half-thought and half feeling of politics, Right and Left,” he said. “But what Dostoevsky is pushing at us all the time is that you are responsible for a great deal more than you know. Your are answerable for the people you want to ignore. That cuts both ways. You may find that words you used innocently are actually responsible for pushing someone into despair or violence.” Someone the Archbishop thinks conveys more than he intends to convey is Richard Dawkins. He finds the fact that Dawkins can’t leave Christianity alone is ‘fascinating’, another sign that our culture is haunted by Christian belief. It is hard to see anyone rivalling Rowan Williams in his ability to demonstrate the relevance of a religious perspective to the chattering classes of secular Britain.
Last week ‘Whispering Gallery’ was North of the Border in a cold and wet Scotland. Talking to people assembled in St Andrews for graduation at Scotland’s oldest university it was interesting to hear of different views among church members about Scottish independence. The Church of Scotland is divided. There are those like Dr Ian Bradley, a well-known writer and broadcaster, who are firm supporters of the union but Professor Robert Crawford, an elder of the Church of Scotland, who presented the novelist AL Kennedy for an honorary degree, is a supporter of separation. The Roman Catholic Church appears to lean more towards separation. The late Cardinal Winning of Glasgow became disillusioned with Tony Blair because of his support for social reform. Gordon Brown, more aware of the importance of the Catholic vote in the West of Scotland, was careful not to get too involved in such issues as gay rights. Now the prominent Catholic layman and philosopher, John Haldane, who heads the centre for philosophy and politics at St Andrews, is pushing for independence. It remains to be seen whether Alex Salmond’s support for gay marriage makes Cardinal O’Brien pause. And the students at St Andrews? With many coming from England and the US, they are politically conservative.
From Westminster to Rome
When Pope Benedict visited Westminster Abbey and heard Evensong sung he asked for some CDs of the choir. Clearly this was part of the Anglican patrimony he hoped members of the Ordinariate would bring with them into the Catholic Church. So enthusiastic was he about Anglican choral music that he invited Westminster Abbey’s choir to sing in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. In an event unprecedented in the Chapel’s 500-year history, the choir is to sing together with the choir of the Sistine Chapel at the Papal mass on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul. It is during this service that the Pope bestows the pallium on Archbishops. In the evening the choir is to sing Anglican Evensong at the titular church in Rome of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. The Cardinal will preach at this service. Apart from his love of church music and enthusiasm for the Westminster Abbey choir does the Pope have a wider agenda in inviting Anglicans to sing in his own special Chapel? It would be nice to think ecumenical considerations were at work but the Dean of Westminster Abbey, John Hall, is probably right when he guesses that what the Pope really wants to do is get Catholics to restore some of the Church’s great musical tradition to the liturgy. At least the invitation proves the Pope is sincere in wanting Anglicans to share their patrimony.