Of Cats and Men; History in the Making: An Eventful Year.

Part 4: Ecumenicism

During the disturbances of Ulster’s July, a pleasing sign of ecumenicism, at least in Britain, (though not without criticism) had been the unveiling July 9 of the statues of the ten Christian martyrs of the twentieth century upon the facade of Westminster Abbey in the presence of both Dr. George Carey of the Abbey and Basil Cardinal Hume of the Cathedral. Though open to charges of PC and erroneous choice, sacrifice for politics rather than Christianity (The Sunday Telegraph editorial July 12) – the limestone came from France – their photographs made the front page tops of The Times and The Daily Telegraph of the 10th. and include the Catholics Maximilian Kolbe of Poland and Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador as well as the Anglicans Manche Masemola of South Africa and Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda. Another of the martyrs, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a German Lutheran like Ranke. From a theological standpoint, the differences between the Anglican and the Lutheran Church seem negligible, and in June the Lutheran World Federation Council meeting in Geneva approved a Catholic–Lutheran ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’: we’re accepted by God, it says, “by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part” (Cindy Wooden, Peace in the offing with the Lutherans, The Catholic Times, Sunday June 28, 1998).

At a practical level a happy sign of the ecumenical movement is the popularity of the Taizé service with its unique blend of charming, simple chant, to a little orchestra, and reflective prayer and biblical readings. Taizé itself is a small village in the hills of the Burgundy region of south eastern France, near Cluny. By extension ‘Taizé’ is an open, international community dedicated to reconciliation. It was established at Taizé by a Brother Roger [Schutz‑Marsauche] in 1940 to bring reconciliation between enemies and between Catholics and (providing all the first brothers) Protestants. As part of the disposition of a Llandaff‑appointed Diocesan Missioner, Philip Morris, to include the provision of interdenominational activities, the service has been adopted in Roath at Middle Church St. Edward’s every two months. As one chant‑betwixt prayer at one such a service said (after the chant ‘Ubi caritas et amor,’ ‘Where there’s charity and love,’ Wed. evening July 15), by song as one means, “difficulties can stimulate faith to build even with the hard events of life.” The rift in the lute, the defect in the Hubble Space Telescope mirror, can stimulate a dedicated restoration to redeem the instrument, to collect afresh the sound or light. Or from September’s service (Wed. evening the 23d.) after a ‘Gloria in excelsis’: “For those who have known the ravages of war and hatred, may they also know the peace you give, Lord we pray.”

The Taizé community’s prayer house is called the Church of the Reconciliation, and the rite of Confession is today also often called Reconciliation. Music is a form of internationalism and reconciliation and to take an example from say Canada, CBC Radio’s long‑running Saturday morning presentation ‘The Max Ferguson Show’ is a delightful instance of the mixing of folk music from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Canada. ‘The Lark in the Clear Air’ may be a metaphor for an Ireland in freedom seen from a time when the very name, Erin, was proscribed, yet today this circumstance is only a surprising programme note to its enjoyment in its own right as a piece of music which has transcended politics.

To include an ecumenical example specifically of Cardiff origin there might be cited the three‑day Whitsun / Spring Bank Holiday ‘Pilgrimage Walk’ across the Valleys above the city which was started (or revived) in 1995 by university lecturers Dr. Madeline Gray and Mr. Anthony Packer, members of an organization called the Fellowship of St. David and St. Nicholas, to link, along mediaeval routes, an abbey, churches, chapels, and a holy well in ‘The Little Church’. “The purpose of this ‘walk for Jesus’ is simply to ask Him to strengthen our witness to His truth and to help us in the search for Christian Unity. Although the pilgrimage bears the past in mind it is more concerned with the future” (poster). History therefore and forward thinking.

They are ecumenicists foremost; Maddy, of Caerleon Campus (Dept. of History), University of Wales Newport, describes herself, tongue in cheek, rather reflecting her bridge‑building, as “semi‑detached Anglican”! At Cardiff University’s Education Dept., Anthony is a member of the Annibynnwyr Cymraeg (Welsh Independents), and wending his way home of a Friday evening is wont to take in a Catholic Vespers service at St. David’s Cathedral, such is his enjoyment of the music!

Catholic or Protestant, we are each of the body of Christ. We recite the Catholic Creed. We share a common tradition, history, language, and a spectrum which within the Roman Church, is probably wider in diversity than ever before Vatican II. Within the Anglican tradition, and in a single parish too like Cardiff’s Roath, the gamut further resolves into Anglo‑Catholic or High Church (e.g. Lionel ‘Fortean TV’’ Fanthorpe’s St. German’s); Middle Church, but High compared with most country village churches in England and Wales, at St. Edward’s and St. Margaret’s; and less well represented in Roath parish, country church‑like Low Church and Evangelical. Anglicans rightly profess to be of a catholic and universal church and the bottom line is that the structure of the Eucharistic service is still the structure of the Roman Catholic Mass. Even Confession / Reconciliation (which so fascinated Jesuit‑influenced Alfred Hitchcock and Hitchcock‑influenced Robert Lepage in their Quebec City‑located films, I confess [1953] and Le Confessional [1995] respectively) as a rite is to be found in The Book of Common Prayer for use in The Church in Wales, on pages 23‑4 (‘Form of Confession and Absolution’), is “perfectly good” (so Roath’s assistant priest at the time, Fr. Graham Reeves of the Liberal Catholic school, in a St. Margaret’s Sunday Newsletter, 3rd Sunday Lent 10 / 03 / 1996).

The thrust of Dr. Carey’s opening speech to the 13th. Lambeth Conference of Bishops at Canterbury Monday July 20 was to bring together the Catholic and Evangelical dimensions of the Church. In a reference reminiscent of Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’, the Archbishop commended an Anglican “middle way”, the ‘via media’ that was first described as the position of the English Church by Cardinal Newman in his Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church, in 1837, which was before his conversion to Roman Catholicism 1845 (which was a few weeks too before his 1845 essay on Christian doctrine). The via media was postulated as lying between the extremes of Protestantism and Catholicism. Differences between the Anglican Church (and Lutheran) and Roman Catholic Church are mostly related to administrative questions such as papal authority, power base if we like, and in this area the idea of an episcopal primacy among provinces has been put on the table by a body called the Anglican‑Roman Catholic International Commission, ARCIC, that was constituted in 1967, and a meeting between bishops or an ARCIC III is on the cards for the millennium. Lest we dismiss this question with too much censure we should remember that it was a power base which enabled a Polish Pope to bring much influence to bear in the demise of the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Having contributed to bringing democracy to Russia, the Pope faces liberal Catholics who campaign for women priests, married priests, and more democracy in the church itself.

A ministerial comment from a member of the British government during the turmoil of Drumcree 1998 and Omagh may be noted as a point of debate. Shocked by events and shaken by adverse publicity – a by‑implication terrible (debatable?) photo caption in Germany’s Stern magazine said of grim‑faced Portadown hardliners “By day they talk of peace. At night they give orders for the battles at the barricades” (Uli Rauss, Der Hass stirbt nie, ‘The hate never dies’, Hamburg, July 16, p. 45). Orange Order chaplains spoke out, British Northern Ireland Minister Paul Murphy (MP for Torfaen, SE Wales, in former Gwent) told The World this Weekend (BBC Radio 4, Sunday July 19) that maybe it was time for the Orange Order to redefine itself, and the Church of Ireland showed itself as not to be seen as beholden to the Order.

How so very true and reminiscent of this summer was a comment of Schroedinger’s Jewish friend, fellow Nobel Laureate Max Born. Speaking both on dualism in the physical sciences and upon human nature, Born, in exile in Cambridge, wrote in German that was translated for publication, that without dualism in the form ‘complementarity’, parties would have arisen which “would have disputed with all the heat and passion which always come to the surface when genuine arguments are wanting!”. Without dualism as complementarity, “we should have had a state of affairs known only in connection with religious, philosophical, or political questions.... By good fortune the history of the human mind has been spared this disgrace.” (from The Restless Universe, Glasgow 1935, New York, Dover edition 1951, ch. III ‘Waves and particles’, sect. ‘The experimental detection of waves of matter’, pp. 152‑3).

It is the case today that in order to attain government it was necessary that the British Labour Party dropped its Clause Four. Without a written ideology and considering itself a culture, the British Conservative Party nevertheless finds itself asking in confusion, lacking definiteness, whether it is in the business of conserving the past or addressing the 21st. century, and for whom?. “If the Tory Party is now going to recast itself as a proto-English nationalist grouping, its claim to connections in Northern Ireland, let alone Scotland and Wales, will shrink further” (David Walker, ‘Analysis: Conservatism, his A‑Z guide’, The Guardian, 6 Oct., 1998). And the British Liberal Party, scourgers of fundamentalists and religious extremists, traditional champions of church disestablishment, defenders of national sovereignties and therefore a sanctioning party of the creation of the Irish Republic and indirectly of Israel, in a policy review 3 September, still ponders its own confusion and the selfishness of the human animal that gains freedom and becomes an oppressor (Mr. Walker, ‘Analysis: Liberalism, Liberals in search of an ism’, The Guardian, 4 Sept. ‘98). Seemingly, unlike the Chinese Communists adopting capitalism, the Soviet Communists, unable to adapt, surviving not even three‑quarters of the 20th. century, didn’t last to celebrate a diamond anniversary.

In Ireland too the Orange Order has been asked to ponder its redefining. Belfast novelist and screen writer Danny Momin (All Our Fault, novel 1991, film of same Nothing Personal, 1995) refers to its consciousness as culture with a small ‘c’, industrially based in Belfast engineering and having affinities with Catholic labour (his description from ‘Front Row,’ BBC Radio 4, Thur. July 16, 1998).

Given these circumstances and recognitions it is perhaps therefore not so outrageous to ask which questions the churches need to address. Do they have clause fours? A thought to ponder is a recurrent theme of Lord Macaulay’s essay on Ranke’s History in which he calls the Roman Church, still to outlast Russia’s Communist regime of 1917‑91 (Soviet Union 1922‑91), “the milk‑white hind,” a hind “still fated [after the French Revolution] not to die” (5th. paragraph back), appearing alone, Macaulay adds, like the great Pyramid after the great flood of an Arab fable. We do not “see any sign which indicates that the term of [the Catholic Church’s] long dominion is approaching. She saw the establishment of all the governments, and of all the ecclesiastical establishments, that now exist in the world, and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all” (paragraph 3 from end).

Although heavy‑handed, top‑heavy administration poses its own problems, the Achilles’ heel in non‑centralised churches is the development of local spiritual conceit, self‑satisfaction, and ecclesiastical isolationism, St. Paul’s part ruling the body, one part dismissing another (Corinthians 1, 12: 2 1), “children, tossed to and fro” (Ephesians, 4: 14, King James), “infants” (New International), “babes” (New World), “children, storm‑tossed sailors,” Knox completes the analogy, “driven before the wind,” in the extreme case, “of each new doctrine that human subtlety, human skill in fabricating lies, may propound.” Like sailors under flags of convenience who tolerate poor pay and conditions, congregations, as it were under flags of convenience, are like employees of companies who fail to participate in their employer’s councils and share option schemes. Sharing is a characteristic of our worship. Even the 3‑week Lambeth Conference of 1998 was defined by Nigel Simeon McCulloch, Bishop of Wakefield, W. Yorks., Lord High Almoner to the Queen, as “a 10‑year sharing of prayer and study” (Sunday, BBC Radio 4, Sunday 9 Aug. 1998). We share especially the bread of the Eucharist yet do we share our pain and vision of God? How are we able to tolerate, in the words of Brother Roger of Taizé, “the scandal of the separation of Christians, all so readily professing love for their neighbour, yet remaining divided” (so Br. Roger in The Taizé Experience, London, 1990: 57).

How too have we been able to tolerate the hatred in Ulster? Do animals hate? Certainly they can develop jealousies. But hatred of neighbour seems to me to be a peculiar human condition of which we should be ashamed, and my little survey of love and of hate, of their politics, of history contemporary, Rankish and Macaulian, is offered in a spirit of dialogue and peace. To my mind these are issues that should always be to the fore.

* And in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, 5 vols. 1840‑44, 1st. ed. vols. 1‑2, Boston 1840, pirated in and vols. 3‑5 added from British periodicals in, Philadelphia 1841‑44; also in Critical and Historical Essays contributed to The Edinburg Review, London, Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 3 vols., lst. two eds. 1843. Review of L. Ranke, his masterwork Die roemischen Paepste..., Berlin, 3 vols, 1834‑6, Sarah Austin’s Eng. tr. The Popes of Rome…, London, 3 vols. 1840, this studied by Macaulay; other English translations of the same.

: Billy Mathias, 31 December, 1998.


The author is a former North Londoner resident in Roath, Cardiff. A Q. & A. quiz based upon this essay appeared in the Church in Wales parish magazine, the Roath News, in November (the Questions) and December (the Answers), as a celebration of an historic year in Ireland. With an added note for the British PM in the Dublin parliament in November, the two pieces noted six ‘first evers.’


Published in The Green Dragon No 8 Spring 1999


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Other articles by this author:

Will you walk with us a little way?

Before the rabbits scatter.

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