The Larger the Load

 container ship

The Larger the Load

   Bill Hartley weighs anchor

The Germans had agreed to dispose of the depth charge, which was decent of them since it had originally been dropped by the Royal Navy. The floor of the Baltic Sea is said to be littered with unexploded ordnance; the detritus of two world wars and the practice of dumping unwanted munitions. It was to be the crew’s last job for a while. Bad weather had brought them into harbour, tying up at a berth just behind our ship.

Esbjerg in Denmark is a rather obscure place. It’s a deep water port which also serves as a base for servicing the country’s off shore wind farms. Just across the harbour was a cable laying ship, also in port because of the weather. Before this work can be done a safety zone has to be trawled, which was how the depth charge had been found. Learning about the ship’s role provided a brief interlude for our crew who stood muffled in layers of clothing and waterproofs, ready for eight hours or so on the freezing dockside. They were waiting for the huge offset stern door to be lowered before work could begin.

Our ship is a 51,000 ton freighter with a considerable draft, meaning that entering this port required a pilot. The captain explained that we have only a metre or so clearance over the sea bed. Added to which such a large ship can’t safely manoeuvre to a quayside under her own power. As we closed in two tugs took on the delicate task of nudging the ship into her final position. Damage to the paintwork along her bows suggested that this job isn’t always wholly successful.

Our voyage had begun three days earlier when we set out from Avonmouth Dock in Bristol. It took three tugs to pull us out into the channel before we could head off to Cork. Although she carries general cargo the main task of the MV Grande Mediterraneo is shifting cars, lots of them. She is one of a fleet belonging to the Grimaldi shipping line. You may have noticed one of these monsters out at sea. They are utilitarian vessels devoid of any grace. The ship looks ugly because function shapes its form. The crew quarters and wheelhouse are so far forward that the bows drop away from just beneath the bridge, rather like the bonnet of a car. The only other feature on the superstructure is the funnel, a considerable way to the stern and reduced to a huge metal box, inside which lie a cluster of giant exhaust pipes. A feature which used to give a ship some style has been effectively hidden away.

The reality of modern shipping is that the container is king. At Cork, one of the smaller ports on our itinerary, there are a couple of huge mobile cranes, designed to roll along the quayside and pluck containers from decks and holds. The old high angle cranes which used to shift individual cargoes in nets are long gone. Mechanisation has led to a massive reduction in the dock labour force although in Southampton there is now actually a shortage. The supermarket company Lidl has opened a warehouse in the city. These are indoor jobs and pay better than dock work.

Cork though is a minnow in the world of ports. For sheer size there is little to beat Antwerp. Sailing up the Scheldt estuary takes us a mind numbing five hours. With land barely in sight a pilot comes out to meet us in a fast cutter, our ship slowing whilst he makes the precarious leap onto a ladder which a couple of sailors have lowered. It doesn’t take long to appreciate the value of a pilot in this crowded waterway. At some points there are actually giant traffic lights to guide ships. Then at intervals come the banks of cranes. These are real giants compared to the ones at Cork and they operate continually, lifting containers from the decks of ships with scarcely a pause. When we finally get to our destination there is a wait of nearly an hour. This is to allow several smaller vessels to join us in a vast lock before we are admitted into the dock basin.

At each of our ports the ship has loaded or unloaded some general cargo but the main business is moving cars. A modern deep water port needs lots of land to accommodate the hundreds of vehicles waiting to be moved. The facilities at Antwerp dwarf most other ports to the extent that car parking must take up quite a chunk of the Belgian countryside. From the width of my cabin porthole I counted five rows of cars stretching into the middle distance, a total of seven hundred vehicles and a tiny fraction of what lay to each side.

The crew of the ordnance disposal ship have been on a night out and unfortunately for their hangovers they are in for a noisy time. With the stern door open work is ready to start. Inside is a cavernous lower deck suitable for taking large vehicles such as heavy plant or construction equipment. Above this her other ten cargo decks are filled with cars. This is the point where the products of the motor trade are concentrated. Much of our cargo comprises the small economy car. Unless you’re in the trade it’s hard to distinguish one from another without seeing the badges. The differences in style appear minimal. It’s as if manufacturers have opted for a safe composite design in which no significant departure from the standard will be risked. Our job is to move these almost identical cars around various ports in northern Europe.

After the deckhands have signalled to the bridge that all is in order the process begins. For the officers and crew, the Scandinavian ports in February are a grim test of endurance. After Esbjerg it’s to be Wallhamn in Sweden and there’s not much difference between the two. At each it’s grey skies, icy winds, rail squalls and not a glimpse of the sun. Everything is done at speed. The less time spent in port the better as far as the owners are concerned and the crew seem to share this view. Curiously whilst a range of equipment is available for the rapid unloading of containers, no-one has figured out a way to speed up the movement of cars. Each one has to be handled individually and it is quite labour intensive. Like a scene from the Italian Job a procession of cars is driven into the ship at high speed whilst another descends from an upper cargo deck and the two miss each other by inches. Sometimes it is British built being exchanged for those made on the continent. Job done, the drivers pile into a minibus which has been trailing them and the process is repeated.

Whilst all this is going on we also do our domestic chores. Kitchen waste in wheelie bins is lowered forty feet from the upper deck onto the quayside. At the same time two road tankers empty their loads into our fuel bunkers. Finally, with night falling the quayside grows quiet as the dockworkers depart in their minibus.

Our approach to Esbjerg has been a slow one. In the North Sea passing through German Bight, one of those shipping forecast locations, visibility was negligible due to fog. On the bridge the world outside is reduced to opaqueness and yet the radar tells a different story. The North Sea can be a crowded place. This is not all deep water either and at intervals to emphasise this, strange shapes appear out of the murk; huge timber structures, long abandoned markers for sandbanks. Modern technology has rendered such things obsolete. Interestingly whilst there are banks of screens on the bridge, the captain has an officer at a chart table doing navigation the old fashioned way. The captain is five years off retirement and presumably of an age where he’s unwilling to place all his trust in IT.

Only in specialist vessels like the ordnance disposal ship are the majority of the crew likely to be European. All the sailors on board the Grande Mediterraneo are Filipino, a hard working group of men often out in bitter weather far from home. On this trip we will have sailed 2,500 nautical miles with one day of decent weather whilst proceeding up the English Channel. Prior to that we were skirting Storm Doris in the Irish Sea before hitting another in the Baltic. This followed us into the North Sea and kept us out of the Scheldt estuary for nearly a day. All this so that the car buying public of Europe can enjoy their dubious choice of models.

BILL HARTLEY is a former deputy governor in HM Prison Service and he writes from Yorkshire

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Dissecting Human Passions

skin

Dissecting Human Passions

Written on Skin, Royal Opera House, January 13th 2017, music composed by George Benjamin, text by Martin Crimp, directed by Katie Mitchell, reviewed by Alessandro Zummo

Written on Skin comes from a close collaboration between the stage director Katie Mitchell, the librettist Martin Crimp and the composer George Benjamin. It is a deep meditation on the power of art and how it can transform our lives, and has returned to the Royal Opera House for the second time with almost the same cast of its premiere.

The opera was conceived for the Aix en Provence festival in 2012 and was clearly intended to establish a connection with Occitan traditions. In fact, it is inspired by the razo and vida, the troubadour poetries commissioned by wealthy patrons in order to have their loves and deeds bequeathed and illuminated with refined miniatures. This opera refers in particular to the popular story of the poet Guillem de Cabestaing, who is commissioned by a local squire to write his achievements on skin/parchment. Eventually, the landowner’s wife falls in love with the poet and that leads to the poet being killed, having his heart removed and served as a meal to the woman, who swears not to eat anymore, leading her eventually to throw herself from a tower to escape her abusive husband.

But Crimp then goes forward and the story takes an almost metaphysical twist: the opera opens with urban, contemporary angels digging out this old story, in a sort of archaeological work and one of them, called throughout “the Boy”, is sent to the medieval dimension and becomes the illuminator. Katie Mitchell effectively conveys this idea of parallel worlds by means of meticulous stage subdivisions, a style already seen in Lucia di Lammermoor in 2016 at the Royal Opera House, in which simultaneous actions takes place, like living canvases. A contemporary, neon lit, cold laboratory, where the angels operate, contrasts with the rustic atmosphere of the Protector’s house and his wife.

The angel/boy, is a countertenor, an intentionally androgynous figure by whom everyone is fatally attracted/repulsed even against their will. Wonderfully interpreted by Iestyn Davies, he is the demiurge between a world of ideas and reality.

The life of the Protector and his wife is a mundane one, consisting of obsessive, repetitive actions. ‘Addicted to purity and violence’ is how the Protector describes himself when he boasts about his power and possessions, which also includes his wife, treated brutally like property and referred to by him as “the woman” throughout. Christopher Purves interprets the violent, cuckolded husband with the energy required by the role despite some occasional hoarseness in his voice.

But when his wife’s sensuality awakens through the power of art she regains possession of her body and identity: then she is called by her real name Agnes. Barbara Hannigan gives a compelling interpretation of the character, managing the complexity of the score with great mastery. All of the characters talk about themselves in the third person, contributing to a sense of estrangement throughout the opera.

The music follows the action very closely, with dissonant chords, obsessive ostinato patterns, harmonic suspensions and wide use of recitatives. There is an almost physical adherence between music and scene in some passages: when the two lovers are overwhelmed by passion it feels as if the music is simulating a pulsing heartbeat. And in the finale when Agnes ascends to the upper world through death there is a moment of eerie musical transfiguration.

But despite all these interesting elements there is only one mood throughout: a relentless tension. The music serves the story well enough but the evolution of Agnes, the only character with some psychological dynamism, isn’t clearly reflected in the music. So in the end, this opera is an exceptional intellectual effort but a cold dissection of human behaviour that fails overall to engage at an emotional level.

ALESSANDRO ZUMMO writes for www.playtosee.com

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Norfolk and Norwich Chamber Music

Cédric Tiberghien and CBSO Wind Soloists

Cédric Tiberghien and CBSO Wind Soloists

Norfolk and Norwich Chamber Music

Cédric Tiberghien / CBSO Soloists, John Innes Centre, Colney, Norwich, March 2017, reviewed by Tony Cooper

Peppered throughout Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music seasons over the past few years has been a highly-successful series of chamber-music weekends, the brainchild of Roger Rowe, who is retiring from NNCM as programme director at the end of this season after 20 years at the helm.

Already this year Norwich has been treated to the clarinettist Michael Collins gathering a group of his close friends together for a trio of concerts celebrating the music of Beethoven, Schubert, et al. And looking further ahead (April, in fact), popular French-born pianist, François-Frédéric Guy returns to Norwich to play Mozart and Brahms with fellow pianist and countryman, Geoffrey Couteau, concluding their weekend partnership with a flourish performing Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen – the first time that this glorious and inspiring work, composed in 1943 and commissioned for the Concerts de la Pléiade held during the German occupation of Paris – has been heard in Norwich. Continue reading

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Mark my Words

images-2

Mark my Words

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, libretto and score by Richard Wagner, Royal Opera House, 13th March 2017, directed by Kasper Holten, orchestra conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano, reviewed by Leslie Jones

This new production of Meistersinger, by departing director Kasper Holten, has all of the characteristics that one has come to expect from Royal Opera. As a spectacle, it makes a lasting impression. Mia Stensgaard’s high tech, at times revolving sets are visually arresting. And the medieval costumes of the guild members during the song competition (Johannistfest), likewise, are lavish, although somewhat at odds with the cast’s otherwise modern attire. We have a full scale riot, dancing girls, a tailor in a goat’s skin and men astride a giant revolving wheel, in a nightmare tableau reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch. In the final act, trumpets, strategically placed at the back of the amphitheatre, herald the beginning of the song contest.

Although, in Oper und Drama, 1850-1851, Wagner envisaged a reformed opera devoid of what he considered the more mindless, crowd pleasing elements (arias, choruses, quintets etc.), in the event Meistersinger incorporated all these aspects.

In this production, the singing of the leading members of the cast and of the chorus is of a consistently high standard. Bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel, as Hans Sachs, gives a master (or meister) class in what is doubtless a physically demanding role. At times, he is alone on the stage, as at the beginning of Act 111, when he sings Wahn, Wahn, überall Wahn (Madness! Madness! Everywhere Madness). Terfel has a quite remarkable range and he appears to effortlessly interact with the orchestra.

In Meistersinger, Wagner anticipated many of the emotionally affecting elements of The Ring Cycle and Parsifal, notably, the evocation of the beauty of nature (the scent of lilac,  birdsong – “I hear a blissful nightingale…”, and the passage of the seasons). And there are telling references to Christ and to John the Baptist, in the Choral of the Congregation (Act 1, scene 1) and in David’s poem, commencing “On Jordan’s bank St John did stand…” (Act 111, scene 1).

At the end of the opening performance, which was rapturously received, a colleague sounded a somewhat discordant note, reminding us that Wagner was Hitler’s favourite composer. Indeed, in Meistersinger, he (Wagner) distinguishes between a stagnant culture constrained by convention and formalism, as represented by the pedantry of the Marker, Sixtus Beckmesser, brilliantly depicted by Johannes Martin Kränzle, and a living, Germanic Kultur, or “holy German art”, untainted by supposedly malignant, alien influences. In “Walther, Poetry and Pedantry”, in the official programme, Hugo Shirley points out that Wagner’s Das Judenthum in der Musik (Jewishness in Music), first published in 1850, was re-published in 1869, soon after Meistersinger’s premier.

Clearly, the aspiring Meistersinger Walther von Stolzing, played by tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, and Sachs himself, “are Wagner’s alter egos” (Chris Walton, “Being Beckmesser”, official programme). And although the goldsmith, Veit Pogner, performed by bass Stephen Milling, represents materialism, he redeems himself by supporting genuine German culture, offering all his worldly goods and chattels, plus his daughter in marriage, to the winner of the song competition. Sachs considers him “A master, rich and high-minded…” He implores Walther to join the guild and to thereby “honour your German masters”.

Michael White attended this performance. Now there is a music critic, whose “shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose”.

Bryn Terfel and Rachel Willis-Sørensen

Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs and Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva, photo by Clive Barda

Dr LESLIE JONES is the Editor of QR

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ENDNOTES, 13th March 2017

MG T-Type 1953

MG T-Type, 1953

Endnotes, 13th March 2017

In this edition: Now Comes Beauty, from EM Records; Vaughan Williams from Norway, reviewed by Stuart Millson; Concert at St John’s, March 1st 2017, reviewed by Leslie Jones

With the English Music Festival (May Bank Holiday, Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire) now only a short time away, how better to celebrate springtime and music-making in our country than with a recent and eye-catching two-CD disc devoted to contemporary British music – but with a slight difference. In other words: expect not atonality, but tunes. Entitled ‘Now comes beauty’ (the name of a work by 56-year-old Cornish-born composer, Paul Carr) the recording comes from EM Records, the recording arm of the Festival, and features the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland – with two pieces in the collection under the baton of Owain Arwel Hughes CBE. And it is Arwel Hughes who sets the pace with the very first work on CD1, the Festival Overture by Matthew Curtis (b. 1959) – a curtain-raiser commissioned for the 2008 EMF. Curtis strongly believes that “the possibilities of ‘traditional’ tonality and form are far from exhausted” and that audiences and musicians alike long for accessible works. The Festival Overture certainly lives up to the composer’s beliefs – a jaunty, “open-road” theme announced by the full orchestra, suggesting an image and atmosphere, perhaps, of an open-top 1950s’ motor-car making its way along country roads through South Oxfordshire. Throughout this five-minute gem of a work, Owain Arwel Hughes shapes all the tunes and phrases with great care and attention, proving that even lighter music can give real pleasure, and is deserving of thorough artistic preparation and recording excellence.

However, a more substantial and introspective piece follows, by David Matthews – now in his 70s, and perhaps the senior and foremost British composer on this disc (Matthews is a symphonist and well-known musicologist). Based upon Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name, White Nights evokes the composer’s memories of a love affair which ended for him in 1980 – the composer wandering London streets late at night in the manner of the “dreamer” in Dostoevsky’s original story set in St. Petersburg.

A Norfolk Suite by Paul Lewis (b. 1943) provides local county colour, as does Christopher Wright’s Legend – a 12-minute-long tone poem revealing a haunting image of the Suffolk coastal spot of Shingle Street, where – during the invasion scare of the early war years – locals claim to have seen a burning sea and bodies washed up on the shoreline. Wright’s idea has a parallel, to some extent, with John Ireland’s famous Legend for piano and orchestra, in which the landscape (in this case, the Sussex Downs) brought forth apparitions of mediaeval times. The power and feelings associated with lonely places have always been a characteristic associated with British composers, and we must congratulate Christopher Wright on his writing, which seems to create a spell and a sense of time and tide standing still.

The exuberant 30-minute-long Piano Concerto by David Owen Norris (performed by the composer) brings the collection to its close: a work which has all the showmanship and exciting, intricate detail which you find in every recital and concert by this engaging, often barnstorming  soloist. The Andante serioso middle movement shows that English romanticism has emerged in the 21st-century in a new, but recognisable guise – a phrase that could summarise all of the works in this enterprising and definitive EM Records edition.

The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is fast emerging as one of Europe’s leading recording and performing groups; interested (unlike many continental ensembles) in British repertoire and works that are just off the beaten track. From Chandos Records comes a deeply satisfying, superbly recorded and absorbing CD juxtaposition of two great works by Ralph Vaughan Williams: his Job, A Masque for Dancing (written during 1927-30) and the last utterance of the composer – the Ninth Symphony (1956-57).

William Blake, The Messengers tell Job of his Misfortunes

William Blake, The Messengers tell Job of his Misfortunes

Inspired by the Book of Job and by William Blake’s illustrations of the same, Vaughan Williams’s “masque” (he avoided the use of the work, ballet) is undoubtedly one of his greatest works – and an enigmatic work, too, in that it can be listened to purely as a set of symphonic scenes, with the listener content with just the faintest outline of the story: Satan’s Dance of Triumph, for example, and the sixth scene – the sinister, yet doleful Dance of Job’s Comforters, ending with a stunning, tumultuous shock-from-nowhere as the orchestra and, shortly after, organ, thunder out an earth-shattering chord. Pastoral landscapes which may remind listeners of the world of The Lark Ascending are also to be found in Job, with Elihu’s Dance of Youth and Beauty offering an ethereal solo role for the orchestral lead violinist, and the mystical gazing-into-the-distance of the Pavane of the Sons of the Morning creating a feeling of rapture and noble achievement. Sir Andrew Davis, a lifelong champion of Vaughan Williams, conducts – and I suspect that this is the first time the Bergen Philharmonic has performed the piece. If so, Sir Andrew has given his players not only a complete insight into the heart of the work: he has inspired them to impressive heights of performing technique – with splendid, snarling brass where necessary, and the occasional manic, overheating of those passages which suggest rampage and fury. The brass sound of the Bergen Philharmonic is superb, but it may not have quite the majesty and poise of the Philharmonia – whose account of Job under the baton of Barry Wordsworth remains one of my favourite interpretations. But the new “Bergen Job” is undoubtedly (for me) a contender for the best new orchestral CD of the last six months.

The Ninth Symphony, just over half-an-hour in length is the second work on the disc: another mysterious landscape occasionally touching the edges of tonality, with brooding shadows, monoliths, snare-drum and pesante themes evoking ghostly drummers and spectres on Salisbury Plain. A flugelhorn (orchestral soloist, Martin Winter) adds to the strangeness and richness of the score, which ends – not in any great affirmation, but rather, suggesting a world of glowing, declining sunshine at the end of a winter’s day – a brief touch of warmth and light as the universe covers us in darkness.

March 1, 2017, St John’s Smith Square, The London Chorus and New London Orchestra, conducted by Ronald Corp: works by Mozart, Elgar and Lennox Berkeley, reviewed by Leslie Jones

St John’s is an ideal venue in which to present music inspired by religion. Perfectly complementing Mozart’s short but affecting Sancta Maria, K273 and his much larger scale Missa Brevis in F, K192, the first and last items respectively, Mezzo Soprano Olivia Ray was the soloist in Four Poems of St Teresa of Ávila, set to music by Lennox Berkeley. Ray’s spirited performance of this somewhat challenging and austere work was greatly appreciated by the audience. The four songs vary in mood and intensity but all together the piece has an exultant, at times ecstatic quality. We are back in the ineffable, Medieval-monastic world of mysticism and religious ecstasy. Berkeley, indicatively, converted to Catholicism in his twenties. Our only reservation was Arthur Symons’ translation of the four poems, which contain some infelicitous stanzas, such as “What is this ding-dong, Or loud singing is it?”, in Shepherd, Shepherd, Hark That Calling.

St Teresa of Ávila

St Teresa of Ávila

The strings are particularly striking in this composition, a quality that also comes to the fore in Berkeley’s scintillating Serenade for Strings, Op.12. The New London Orchestra gave a powerful performance of this four movement work. The first movement, marked Vivace, is lively; the second, marked Andantino, is more introspective in mood; then in the at times turbulent third movement, marked Allegro Moderato, but even more in the angst ridden fourth movement, or Scherzo, marked Lento, we have echoes of Bohuslav Martinu. The Serenade was written in 1939 and both of these composers ably expressed what the programme note calls “the ‘trauma’ of that period”.

The sea, like religion, has inspired some great music. Claude Debussy’s La Mer, The Sea by Frank Bridge and Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes spring immediately to mind. Now Edward Elgar’s beautifully orchestrated Sea Pictures has been re-arranged for choir and orchestra by Donald Fraser, who was in the audience during this performance. Instead of one solo performer, usually a mezzo-soprano accompanied by the orchestra, in Fraser’s re-arrangement all five songs are sung by a choir or chorus. Thus, in the exquisite second song, ‘In Haven’, women sing the first verse, men the second and the whole choir the last. Stick in the muds will doubtless prefer the original (Elgar’s) version.

LESLIE JONES is Editor of The Quarterly Review

STUART MILLSON is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

(Now Comes Beauty, EMR CD037-8. Vaughan Williams, Job & Symphony No. 9, CHSA 5180. For details of the forthcoming English Music Festival, go to: www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk)

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Fighting for England

Tommy Robinson

Tommy Robinson

Fighting for England

Gerry Dorrian describes what drove the EDL

As well as being Senior Lecturer at King’s College, London, Dr John Meadowcroft is the university’s Director of Postgraduate Research in Political Economy, and he has taught on the LSE Hansard Scholars scheme. Significantly, for what follows, he has also toiled at the coal face of politics, assisting Simon Hughes when he was a Liberal Democrat MP and editing, for the Institute of Economic Affairs, the popular and controversial Prohibitions.

In the introduction to his lecture on the English Defence League at the Adam Smith Institute on 2 March, his own chapter on prostitution was cited as a piece that, in looking at all the aspects of one activity surrounded by embargoes and disdain, said everything that needed to be said about all prohibitions.

Which is perhaps a link to Meadowcroft’s pioneering investigations into the EDL. His co-researcher was Dr Elizabeth Morrow, herself a King’s Ph.D, who recently wrote a report for the centre-left think tank Demos that would be controversial and counter-intuitive to some, saying that there was little evidence that the collapse in support for both the EDL and the British National Party was primarily due to the rise of UKIP. Neither is afraid to speak truth to orthodoxy.

Memberships and marches were legal and indeed facilitated by the police, but the EDL was considered beyond the pale by those opposing them. Yet despite the very strong views on either side, both researchers managed to embed themselves in several marches and interview individual members, and still delivered a dispassionate phenomenological study of the EDL based around the perceived costs and benefits of membership, entitled The Political Economy of the EDL. It was a breath of fresh air to hear the subject approached by somebody speaking from a position of knowledge, which made the less salubrious aspects he reported bearable.

One salutary aspect is that demonstrations were attended by some who viewed the EDL as promising access to violence that had been policed out of football: witness the leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, pseudonym Tommy Robinson, who had been a well-known member of a gang of hooligans connected to Luton Town Football Club. Access to violence is one of what John Meadowcroft calls “club goods” – partly private and partly public reinforcers that incentivise people to participate in ways that more structured organisations such as political parties cannot. Participation started to collapse when these “club goods” were rendered unobtainable through, for example, police tactics such as kettling and forcing pubs near the route to shut. A further disincentive was the negative media coverage the EDL accrued, causing members to lose support from friends and family members.

If the change in police tactics caused one exogeneous shock, according to John’s and Elizabeth’s interviewees, another came through infiltration of the EDL by the far-right.

I had been apprehensive regarding the atmosphere during the lecture, but the Adam Smith Institute is an oasis of rational discourse in these increasingly fervid times. I found myself in conversation with a young academic who felt attracted to cultural Marxism, and we identified that we came to opposite ends of the field for the same reason: political cartelisation. This is a process first identified by Frankfurt-school economist Otto Kirschheimer in 1950s Germany whereby main political parties converge to form a “superparty” whose parliamentarians don’t care which party or combination thereof form the government, as long as governmental power resides within the cartel. Indicatively, Keith Sutherland, writing for the Quarterly Review of Summer 2011, quoted Yaxley-Lennon/Robinson’s assertion that “ordinary people feel betrayed by the political class” and identified this feeling as a driver for EDL membership. The corollary of political cartelisation is a withering of political diversity.

There was a refreshing lack of platitudes about multiculturalism. Multiculturalist policies, strategies and laws have delivered a limited multiculturalism in the public sphere only. Many people go home to communities consisting of a limited range of enthnicities or perhaps even just one. Multiculturalism can only arise spontaneously when individuals feel empowered to transgress the boundaries of community and reach out to other individuals doing the same. Yaxley-Lennon/Robinson once put it succinctly: “multiculturalism is where people from different communities meet, fall in love and have children”.

What happened at the Adam Smith Institute on 2 March was little short of a miracle, in that people from different classes and ethnicities came together to discuss a subject on which opinions are generally polarised along ethnic and class lines. One sign of that miracle is that after the lecture I heard a lady who identified herself as opposing the EDL say “I was holding myself back”. That’s what happens when things are brought into the light: we self-censor, we hold back. John’s and Elizabeth’s detached, disinterested assessment, catalysed (I believe) the spread of light rather than heat, and that’s something we all took out into the night.

We look forward to John Meadowcroft and Elizabeth Morrow publishing their research, on this and further projects.

John Meadowcroft at the IEA

Dr John Meadowcroft at the IEA, image from VIMEO.com

GERRY DORRIAN writes from Cambridge

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Last Post

Talleyrand

Talleyrand

Last Post

Stoddard Martin enjoys Linda Kelly’s latest offering

TALLEYRAND IN LONDON: The Master Diplomat’s Last Mission, by Linda Kelly, I. B. Tauris, £25

Linda Kelly is a pioneer in the genre of what one might call the non-fiction novella. This is no slighting phrase, nor meant to devalue her quality as a historian. If her ten books were to be taken as one, she would be seen as the author of a vast, engaging epic on English and French cultures and their interaction during seventy years of massive change, 1770-1840. In arts and letters, this period is called Romantic, and Kelly has been adept at detailing elements of that phenomenon in theatre, poetry and to a degree music – thus her portraits of Sheridan, Kemble and Sarah Siddons; her evocations of the myth of Chatterton, the life of Tom Moore and the movement of French writers of the Orléanist decade; her miniature of the Burney household during the year of the Gordon Riots. In all of these tableaux the politics of tumultuous times form a backdrop. The dramatis personae are players reacting to dislocation at the top, those Byron labelled ‘My friends the Whigs’. Continue reading

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Regionalism and Nationalism in Canada

Canada-Map-Political-City

Regionalism and Nationalism in Canada

The third of a series of articles by Mark Wegierski to mark the Sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation

The historical context

The problem of centre-periphery relations in a society, and of how a geographically extensive country extending beyond the confines of a city-state, can be effectively governed, are two of the most pressing problems in political theory.

One failure of the Ancient Greeks was that they found it difficult to extend their political units beyond the city-state. The surrounding area, Attica, had been forged into a unified entity, a solid home base for the empire. However, the Athenian Empire did not meet the challenge of governing divergent cities beyond Attica. Some political thinkers, notably Rousseau, believed that democracy outside of a small city of tens of thousands of citizens, was virtually impossible, and mostly meaningless. Certainly, the ancient empires ruled geographically extensive areas through various kinds of governors, with little popular consultation. Continue reading

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Carducci String Quartet

Kemal Yusuf

Kemal Yusuf

Carducci String Quartet

Carducci String Quartet; John Innes Centre, Colney, Norwich,
February 2017. Reviewed by Tony Cooper

Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music pulled off a major coup by commissioning London-born composer, Kemal Yusuf, to write a piece for the Carducci Quartet, his first offering in the string-quartet genre.

A composer who possesses a unique ear, Yusuf (who is of Turkish descent) has a catholic approach to music which has seen him active in the field of musical theatre while he also works as a jazz pianist and has written film scores.

His new piece, entitled ‘Oyun’ (meaning ‘Game’ in Turkish), is dedicated to his late mentor, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whom, I’m sure, would have been immensely proud of his achievement. In fact, Max was the first to see Yusuf’s sketches and was instrumental in helping the younger composer to formulate and nurture his initial ideas.

An exploration of the interplay of different musical materials, ‘Oyun’ – a single-movement work lasting about 18 minutes and influenced by Debussy’s ‘Jeux’ – is a piece the composer describes as ‘misbehaving’. The only point of stability comes from a lush and quickly modulating chorale pitched in the higher register towards the end of the piece. It’s a great moment of strength and sturdiness in the work before it returns to its mischievous and carefree ways.

Despite the work’s fragmented nature – which sees each player afforded the opportunity of demonstrating their musical prowess in one or more solo passages against the other members of the quartet holding on a long-extended chord – the tone of the instruments they produced created a rich and warm array of tonal colour demonstrating the dexterity and skill of the players of this fine quartet who are no strangers to Norwich.

When NNCM commissioned Gordon Crosse to write a piece as part of the Britten centenary celebrations in 2013, resulting in ‘Blyth Postcards’, the première fell to the Carduccis. Therefore, it seems appropriate that the quartet should be chosen to give the first performance of Yusuf’s latest work.

And for last year’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Yusuf wrote a large-scale orchestral/choral piece entitled ‘Cain’ premièred by the Norfolk & Norwich Festival Chorus and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of David Parry.

In addition to his compositional work, Yusuf – initially self-taught but who progressed to the Royal Academy of Music under the tutelage of Simon Bainbridge – founded the London Graduate Orchestra in 2013 with conductor, Claire Lampon, offering graduates the opportunity of performing in a quality orchestra.

The Carducci’s invigorating and entertaining programme also included brilliant readings of Haydn’s D major quartet, Webern’s Langsamersatz and Beethoven’s F minor quartet, known as the ‘Serioso’, written, unbelievably, in Vienna whilst the city was under seige by Napoleon.

The quartet – comprising Matthew Denton, Michelle Fleming (violins), Eoin Schmidt-Martin (viola) and Emma Denton (cello) – gets its name from Castagneto-Carducci, a commune in the province of Livorno in the Italian region of Tuscany, where the quartet founded a festival a few years ago. But closer to home they preside over their own chamber-music weekend held in May at Highnam in Gloucestershire.

The Carducci String Quartet

The Carducci String Quartet

TONY COOPER is QR’s Opera Critic

 

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Early and Later Medieval Scholasticism

St Thomas Aquinas, Painting by Carlo Crivelli

St Thomas Aquinas, painting by Carlo Crivelli

Early and Later Medieval Scholasticism

Darrell Sutton reviews new editions of timeless texts

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 8 Vols. (2012). The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine; Cornelius à Lapide, The Great Commentary: I Corinthians & II Corinthians and Galatians (2016), Loreto Publishers

Public forums in the west shelter their citizens from blatant favoritism toward one religion or another. There are politicians who may believe this assertion is questionable. Nonetheless, to others the safeguard is a defensive undertaking that is specifically germane to Europe and the Americas, unlike what is customary in many countries of the Orient. One may feel too that it is a harsh prevention that some western officials inflict on their general populace. Peoples of the world today are not less religious than they were hundreds or thousands of years ago. The effects of their piety in the West, however, are less overt. If there is a discernible difference, a major one is that nonbelievers today have more powerful tools at their disposal through social media and printed pages than in former times. By these means they can resist all formal religious indoctrination. In addition, the mega-phonic use of television and radio amplifies their voices all around the world. That influence is now great. Why should doubters not be heard? Should the municipal use of religion to influence citizenry not be debated openly? Apologetics, so it is said, is a discipline of theology that was designed to be philosophically sensitive to opposing views.

How different things were in the not too distant past when mankind’s outlook on the world and its continuance spurred robust debate among everyday citizens, chiefly within the guild of ancient philosophers. There is evidence for that claim. A book entitled History of Theology was composed, allegedly by a pupil of Aristotle (384BC-322BC). Eudemus of Rhodes (c.370BC-300BC) is the name by which he is popularly known. He edited some of Aristotle’s writings and he was a friend of Theophrastus (c.372BC-c.287BC). It was believed by some that Eudemus had written a fine work of theological reference. Ancient Greek philosophy and theology at the time concerned discussions of the divine being. The culture which produced the great literatures of antiquity consisted of persons who were fascinated with a “creator” and with the “origin of things”. It would be millennia later, during the Enlightenment, before those two disciplines would be permanently divided. Initial fissures became visible in the writings of Boethius (c.480-AD524), an avid reader of Plato (c.427-347BC) and of Aristotle. Boethius’ Theological Tractates and Consolation of Philosophy show a creative academic approach to explaining every existing thing; but during the Renaissance clergy-men and non-clergy-men of the day came to view the essence of credible scholarship in a different way. Diverging predilections and some very specific scholarly objectives were determining factors. It resulted in the re-casting of religious belief, political opinions and alliances.

Even now, Protestant divines are not esteemed commensurate with the enduring influence of 16th century Reformers. The upshot of the Reformation and the so-called Counter-Reformation was not unity but greater division. The partisanship was obvious. To some extent the academy suffered. One should not suppose though that the humanist genius of Renaissance times was halted entirely by the ascendancy of Martin Luther (1483-1546), his peers or his successors. For a long time theology reigned as the ‘Queen of the Sciences.’ The School-men of Christian religion in the Middle Ages emphasized piety as well as the professional study of scripture. True, their method of study bore Aristotelian marks, and it was rhetorical in nature, but it combined classical Greek and Latin insights with Patristic interpretations. Theological inquiries took on a philosophical hue. The result is an extant corpus of Catholic literature, one of immense proportion whose creation marked a signal achievement. Too many of these writers composed exegetical works that are now overlooked.

Two publishing houses, The Aquinas Institute and Loreto publications, intend to effect a renewal. They aspire to change the attitude of 21st century readers, whose mainstream neglect of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637), in particular, disavows the logic and common sense upon which western civilization originally was erected. These businesses have an uphill task. However, for those pilgrims willing to traverse the path the publishers now pave there are several thick volumes to read along the journey.

Until Karl Barth (1886-1968) composed his (unfinished) multi-volume Church Dogmatics, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica stood in the front ranks of all theological projects. It is an outstanding contribution to philosophical theology for a Dominican priest of that day. Not without reason is Aquinas deemed the ‘Angelic Doctor’. Because of the Summa’s fame, Paul Tillich (1886-1965), a theologian of international repute within the liberal academic community, refused to describe his own theological enterprise as a summa because Aquinas’ project was so exhaustive. Few scholars working in the theological sciences desire to see their academic insights compared to Aquinas’ works: he left so few stones unturned; hence it is best to read Aquinas first, then move onward to all derivative literature.

For this enterprise the Aquinas Institute has produced some very large tomes. These dark, dominating blue hard-covers of the Summa line my bookshelves. The volumes are in three parts, covering more than 400 questions, each with sub-topics that are treated lucidly. Inside each volume is a beautiful Latin text, carefully edited. On the facing side of the page is a close rendering in English. The Summa Theologica is a treasury of analytical logic. Much like a Catherine Wheel, it shoots sparks in different directions. Aquinas’ method is resourceful. He notes down objections, one after another, and then meets each objection with thoughtful answers. The questions and answers reveal specific issues that distressed religious and irreligious persons. Moreover Aquinas shows great deference to Aristotle all the way through, but he does not typically use his name in the discussions. He simply refers to Aristotle as ‘The Philosopher.’ Patristic Fathers who wrote in Latin are cited profusely.

The Institute could have helped readers by providing an ‘Introduction’ which describes the historical situation and the need for the Summa, even recording why it yet is popular in Philosophy departments worldwide. Much more than a philosophy of religion is presented by Aquinas. Any reader of these topics, although he or she may be an unbeliever in any deity, can acquire technical equipment useful for oral and literary debate. Novices to the Latin language can reacquaint themselves with it by slowly deciphering it or by going on to become skillful in Aquinas’ nuances. Some of the arguments are tedious; men of lesser genius have made similar grand attempts at working through their beliefs in print. Few of those texts became the impetus for an ongoing revival. Neo-Thomism, also known as Neo-Scholasticism, is a movement whose intellectual flame will not be extinguished. As long as students ruminate over the Doctor’s concerns further gains will be made in understanding the 13th century’s foremost philosophical theologian in the west.

Granted, Aquinas wasn’t loved by all Catholic academics in the Occident that came after him. Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457), for one, did all he could to undermine the influence of scholasticism, particularly the form it took from Aquinas’ hand. Ciceronian modes of thought were fashioned to rival Thomism. The end product was a humanism which reached back beyond Aquinas to classical Greek and Roman texts. But Aquinas was not forgotten. His cosmological arguments for the existence of God and many of his psychological observations (see below) continue to resonate. His notion of the liberty of the will passed through the centuries unchallenged until the Reformation. It was not wholly unlike the view of St. Augustine.

It is important to read Aquinas in large chunks. So for comparative purposes I have studied the text of Aquinas Institute’s volumes alongside my two large 1846 volumes, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, containing both Peter Lombard’s Latin text of Sentences and Aquinas’ Latin text of Summa. The text is essentially the same.

When treating of ‘Whether There is a Natural Fear (Q.41 Article 3)’

Aquinas first registers objections, then sets forth his view:

Ad tertium sic proceditur. Videtur quod timor aliquis sit naturalis. Dicit enim Damascenus, in III libro, quod est quidam timor naturalis, nolente anima dividi a corpore.   Objection 1: It would seem that there is a natural fear. For Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii, 23) that there is a natural fear, through the soul refusing to be severed from the body
Praeterea, timor ex amore oritur, ut dictum est. Sed est aliquis amor naturalis, ut Dionysius dicit, IV cap. de Div. Nom. Ergo etiam est aliquis timor naturalis.   Obj. 2: Further, fear arises from love, as stated above (A2, ad 1). But there is a natural love, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv). Therefore there is also a natural fear.
Praeterea, timor opponitur spei, ut supra dictum est. Sed est aliqua spes naturae, ut patet per id quod dicitur Rom. IV, de Abraham, quod contra spem naturae, in spem gratiae credidit. Ergo etiam est aliquis timor naturae.   Obj. 3: Further, fear is opposed to hope, as stated above (Q40, A4, ad 1). But there is a hope of nature, as is evident from Rom. 4:18, where it is said of Abraham that against hope of nature, he believed in hope of grace. Therefore there is also a fear of nature.
Sed contra, ea quae sunt naturalia, communiter inveniuntur in rebus animatis et inanimatis. Sed timor non invenitur in rebus inanimatis. Ergo timor non est naturalis.   On the contrary, That which is natural is common to things animate and inanimate. But fear is not in things inanimate. Therefore there is no natural fear.
Respondeo dicendum quod aliquis motus dicitur naturalis, quia ad ipsum inclinat natura. Sed hoc contingit dupliciter. Uno modo, quod totum perficitur a natura, absque aliqua operatione apprehensivae virtutis, sicut moveri sursum est motus naturalis ignis, et augeri est motus naturalis animalium et plantarum. Alio modo dicitur motus naturalis, ad quem natura inclinat, licet non perficiatur nisi per apprehensionem, quia, sicut supra dictum est, motus cognitivae et appetitivae virtutis reducuntur in naturam, sicut in principium primum. Et per hunc modum, etiam ipsi actus apprehensivae virtutis, ut intelligere, sentire et memorari, et etiam motus appetitus animalis, quandoque dicuntur naturales.   I answer that, A movement is said to be natural, because nature inclines thereto. Now this happens in two ways. First, so that it is entirely accomplished by nature, without any operation of the apprehensive faculty: thus to have an upward movement is natural to fire, and to grow is the natural movement of animals and plants. Secondly, a movement is said to be natural, if nature inclines thereto, though it be accomplished by the apprehensive faculty alone: since, as stated above (Q10, A1), the movements of the cognitive and appetitive faculties are reducible to nature as to their first principle. In this way, even the acts of the apprehensive power, such as understanding, feeling, and remembering, as well as the movements of the animal appetite, are sometimes said to be natural.
Et per hunc modum potest dici timor naturalis. Et distinguitur a timore non naturali, secundum diversitatem obiecti. Est enim, ut philosophus dicit in II Rhetoric., timor de malo corruptivo, quod natura refugit propter naturale desiderium essendi, et talis timor dicitur naturalis. Est iterum de malo contristativo, quod non repugnat naturae, sed desiderio appetitus, et talis timor non est naturalis. Sicut etiam supra amor, concupiscentia et delectatio distincta sunt per naturale et non naturale.    And in this sense we may say that there is a natural fear; and it is distinguished from non-natural fear, by reason of the diversity of its object. For, as the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 5), there is a fear of corruptive evil, which nature shrinks from on account of its natural desire to exist; and such fear is said to be natural. Again, there is a fear of painful evil, which is repugnant not to nature, but to the desire of the appetite; and such fear is not natural. In this sense we have stated above (Q26, A1; Q30, A3; Q31, A7) that love, desire, and pleasure are divisible into natural and non-natural.
Sed secundum primam acceptionem naturalis, sciendum est quod quaedam de passionibus animae quandoque dicuntur naturales, ut amor, desiderium et spes, aliae vero naturales dici non possunt. Et hoc ideo, quia amor et odium, desiderium et fuga, important inclinationem quandam ad prosequendum bonum et fugiendum malum; quae quidem inclinatio pertinet etiam ad appetitum naturalem. Et ideo est amor quidam naturalis, et desiderium vel spes potest quodammodo dici etiam in rebus naturalibus cognitione carentibus. Sed aliae passiones animae important quosdam motus ad quos nullo modo sufficit inclinatio naturalis. Vel quia de ratione harum passionum est sensus seu cognitio, sicut dictum est quod apprehensio requiritur ad rationem delectationis et doloris, unde quae carent cognitione, non possunt dici delectari vel dolere. Aut quia huiusmodi motus sunt contra rationem inclinationis naturalis, puta quod desperatio refugit bonum propter aliquam difficultatem; et timor refugit impugnationem mali contrarii, ad quod est inclinatio naturalis. Et ideo huiusmodi passiones nullo modo attribuuntur rebus inanimatis.    But in the first sense of the word natural, we must observe that certain passions of the soul are sometimes said to be natural, as love, desire, and hope; whereas the others cannot be called natural. The reason of this is because love and hatred, desire and avoidance, imply a certain inclination to pursue what is good or to avoid what is evil; which inclination is to be found in the natural appetite also. Consequently there is a natural love; while we may also speak of desire and hope as being even in natural things devoid of knowledge. On the other hand the other passions of the soul denote certain movements, whereto the natural inclination is nowise sufficient. This is due either to the fact that perception or knowledge is essential to these passions (thus we have said, Q31, A1,3; Q35, A1, that apprehension is a necessary condition of pleasure and sorrow), wherefore things devoid of knowledge cannot be said to take pleasure or to be sorrowful: or else it is because such like movements are contrary to the very nature of natural inclination: for instance, despair flies from good on account of some difficulty; and fear shrinks from repelling a contrary evil; both of which are contrary to the inclination of nature. Wherefore such like passions are in no way ascribed to inanimate beings.
Et per hoc patet responsio ad obiecta.    Thus the Replies to the Objections are evident.

 

Aquinas had no problem delving into the intricacies of the mind, its mental processes and unpleasant feelings of phobia. It is clear that readers must make a supreme effort to stay with his very involved arguments. But in a world in which fear seizes hearts daily and governs the lives of many persons, some knowledge of its nature is still useful in the 21st century.

As for Cornelius a Lapide’s 33 volumes of The Great Commentary (TGC), written entirely in Latin, it was a remarkable scholastic achievement. Each republished volume will be bound in sturdy, bright red hard-covers. The commentaries on the four Gospels were issued in 2007. Now I Corinthians & II Corinthians and Galatians (2016) are available in one volume. More prolific than the Protestant divine John Calvin (1509-1564), who lectured and published on so much of the Bible, à Lapide commented on all the canonical texts (except Job and Psalms) and deuterocanonical books. In the Foreword (p.vii) of the Matthew commentary of Loreto’s new edition, Charles A Coulombe writes,

“The divorce between sanctity and scholarship that has grown since the Reformation is perhaps the greatest impediment today to the study of Scriptures or Theology of any kind. For the first fifteen centuries of Christianity’s existence, it was presumed that one studied and commented on the Bible as part of one’s own personal quest for holiness and salvation… from the time of Martin Luther, biblical research has tended to degenerate ever more into either an intellectual exercise or a search for textual weapons with which to belabor ideological opponents.”

The above words are part of the opening paragraph. The stance is clear. The Reformers’ scholarship has proved to be, in one way or another, the force behind successive movements away from reverent reflection of scripture toward a more secular and polemical approach to reading canonical documents. Educated Protestants of the 21st century would dispute those claims for sure.  Scholastic Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries of course could defend their theology point by point. E.g., Philip Melanchthon’s (1497-1560) Loci Communes Rerum Theologicarum and Francis Turretin’s (1623-1687) Institutes of Elenctic Theology substantiate my assertion. But few modern Protestants in the west know the Latin well enough to read them directly. Interpretations of scholarly texts from that era now are derivative of English translations mainly; but when the Latin is inaccessible an English gloss still is preferable and profitable. On this point Catholics have reason to rejoice.

Born in the Netherlands, during the conflicts between Protestant Calvinists and Roman Catholics, the Jesuit à Laipide drew many Protestants homeward to Roman Catholic belief. His beliefs were held fervently, embracing those same convictions which were once shared by another Flemish theologian, Jacobus Latomus (1475-1544). The impressions à Lapide got from Reformed commentaries, and the judgments he issued on their value as contributions to sacred science were not favorable. Unlike Antoine A. Calmet (1672-1757), in his comments on scripture à Lapide did not withhold from public notice his personal beliefs on controversial subjects. While the study of Latin remained strong in Catholic quarters, à Lapide’s texts were well known. But with the displacement of Latin’s dominance in liturgy and in its application for scholarly instruction, also came a lack of acquaintance with his texts. Readers can be thankful for the translation-work of Anglo-Catholic T.W. Mossman (1826-1885), and for Loreto’s re-publication of Mossman’s renderings of The Great Commentary.

Technical minutiae, i.e., linguistic matters and so on, are restored. Matthew begins with à Lapide’s 129-page study of prefatory themes. The observations are erudite, equally informative as a specialized analysis of Gospel origins and content, in pre-Enlightenment days. The classic Douay-Rheims translation is utilized. His remarks are cross-referenced in one volume with those in another volume, as at II Corinthians 1:20 where his notes refer back to Matthew 5:37. Interesting remarks on Galatians 1:8 (p.614f.) highlight the polemical way in which the verse was broadly interpreted centuries ago: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema”. At issue was Paul’s claim of the mingling of Judaism and Christianity among devotees of Christ; Protestants and Catholics used the book as a foil in Reformation debates. So à Lapide:

“In the same way I will now conclude as follows: On the rise of Luther, Calvin, Menno, and any other Protestants, either the Church and the true faith came to an end or they did not. For these two—the true Church and the true faith—are necessarily connected, so much so that if in a single point, say the invocation of saints, the Church were to leave the track of the true faith, she must become heretical, so as not to be the Church of God but of Satan; just as any individual who maintains a single heresy, even though he correctly believes all the other articles of faith, is a heretic. I repeat therefore, when Calvin arose, either the Church came to an end or she did not; if she did, and had not existed since the time of S. Gregory the Great, as the Protestants say, then the Church had been extinct for nine-hundred years, that is to say, the world for nine-hundred years was without true faith, true religion, sacraments, Church, and salvation; therefore for nine-hundred years Christ deserted His bride; therefore the eternal kingdom of Christ had fallen, for Christ reigns in His Church; therefore the gates of hell had prevailed against His Church; therefore Calvin was born outside the Church, was no member of the Church, but an unbeliever, a heretic or a pagan; therefore he had no claim to be received by the people, by the world, and listened to as one of the faithful, but he should have been despised and rejected as an unbeliever who did not belong to the Church. If, however, the Church had not come to an end, and Calvin was born, baptized, educated, and brought up in the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church, that Church was clearly a true Church, holding true faith. Therefore, when he withdrew from her, and shut himself up in his new dogmas, he separated himself from the true faith and from the Church, and became an apostate. Therefore, when he established another and a reformed church, it was not a true and apostolic church, but an apostate, schismatical, heretical church that he founded—a mistress and school not of faith, but of new doctrines and heresies. Let a fair-minded reader, who sincerely wavers but seeks the true faith, outside which no one can be saved, consider and weigh the force of this dilemma, and ask whether there is any escape from its conclusions, whether the rule here given is not a touchstone of what is true in doctrine and in faith.”

Those are plain statements (and analogous anti-Catholic statements can be found in Protestant literature of that day). Millions of people still adhere to à Lapide’s views. Although the language of professional writers has softened, polemical discourse continues among scholars and lay-persons whose Reformed and counter-Reformed views remain unacceptable to each other. The historical value of the debates is immeasurable. A number of readers will find some of it off-putting; objectionable testimonials aside, extracts from the Church Fathers appear in TGC in great quantity; and explanations of Greek and Hebrew idiom are not uncommon, turning up on page after page. Cornelius à Lapide has the temerity to read critically, preferring the Greek and Vulgate texts over divergences from the received texts made by St. Jerome or St. Ephrem (see Gal. 1:7 notes).

Through these volumes, students of early and later medieval Roman Catholic scholarship have a large fund of knowledge available to them. Their expositions of biblical texts have few rivals among contemporary Catholic literature. In the English language, the closest thing to Aquinas’ Summa, which bears witness to traditional Thomistic theological method, is Joseph Pohle’s (1852-1922) twelve-volume Dogmatic Theology, also republished by Loreto as the Pohle-Preuss Manual of Dogmatic Theology (2014) in 6 volumes. Seemingly, modern Catholic theologians are radically different today in their approaches to Catholic dogma.

No series of Catholic biblical commentaries currently on the market reproduces the singular, but erudite views displayed in à Lapide’s work. TGC established a scholarly benchmark. One wonders if it can be duplicated by any Roman Catholic exegete writing presently: a critical, albeit skeptical outlook has now firmly displaced the intellectual piety once so prevalent. An as to the lasting value of much of the available avant-garde Catholic research that I have perused, I am somewhat skeptical. Much of it does little to inspire piety or devotion in the Church’s adherents.

I heartily recommend, however, that the beginning of any reader’s education of Catholic scholasticism start with the philosophical and exegetical writings of Thomas Aquinas and Cornelius à Lapide.

Cornelius_a_Lapide_(1597-1637)

Darrell Sutton is rector of the Tabernacle in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a small village in the Great Plains. He teaches Semitic languages and edits an academic bulletin entitled ‘The DS Commentary on Books’

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