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Loading up for Survival, Church and State

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Merkel’s under attack for recommending Germans keep a two-week supply of food ]
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Mormon faithful are exhorted by the First Presidency of their Church in a pamphlet titled All is safely gathered in “to prepare for adversity in life by having a basic supply of food and water and some money in savings.” Specific recommendations follow:

THREE-MONTH SUPPLY

Build a small supply of food that is part of your normal, daily diet. One way to do this is to purchase a few extra items each week to build a one-week supply of food. Then you can gradually increase your supply until it is sufficient for three months. These items should be rotated regularly to avoid spoilage.

DRINKING WATER

Store drinking water for circumstances in which the water supply may be polluted or disrupted. If water comes directly from a good, pretreated source then no additional purification is needed; otherwise, pretreat water before use. Store water in sturdy, leak-proof, breakage-resistant containers. Consider using plastic bottles commonly used for
juices and soda. Keep water containers away from heat sources and direct sunlight.

FINANCIAL RESERVE

Establish a financial reserve by saving a little money each week and gradually increasing it to a reasonable amount (see All Is Safely Gathered In: Family Finances guide).

LONGER-TERM SUPPLY

For longer-term needs, and where permitted, gradually build a supply of food that will last a long time and that you can use to stay alive, such as wheat, white rice, and beans. These items can last 30 years or more when properly packaged and stored in a cool, dry place. A portion of these items may be rotated in your three-month supply.

That’s a pretty comprehensive survival plan, and while it allows for those who are just starting to prepare themselves to begin incrementally, it’s first real target is three months’ preparedness and longer-term vision extends out to thirty years.

Note that the motivation here is to live in accordance with the divine will as it may be applicable to human circumstance.

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Compare that with what the secular state of Germany is currently proposing. Deutsche Welle, under the heading What emergency supplies do you need? reports the following:

Germany’s government is mulling a plan requiring citizens to stock up on food and supplies in case of a natural disaster or armed attack. So what should you have in your pantry? Here’s our comprehensive checklist.

The stockpile plan outlined in the government’s “Concept for Civil Defense” paper obligates Germans to store 10 days’ worth of food and five days’ worth of drinking water. The idea is for people to have enough supplies – including cash and medicine – on hand to get them through an emergency situation before government assistance kicks in.

The level of preparedness proposed in the paper hasn’t been seen since the end of the Cold War. The strategy was originally commissioned by a parliamentary committee in 2012, but its release now comes amid a raft of new security measures and heightened terror concerns. Still, its contents aren’t new – German authorities have long urged households to store two weeks’ worth of emergency supplies.

The Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, for example, has published a checklist online with recommended supplies for a 14-day period. The most important thing on the list is water – 28 liters per person for a fortnight, or around two liters per day. People can survive a few weeks without food, but only four days without liquid.

The Ministry of Food even has an online “calculator” to help you work out what kind of food – and how much – to stock up on. It recommends 4.9 kilograms of cereal-based products like rice, bread and noodles per person per fortnight. It also suggests 5.6kg of veggies, 3.7kg each of milk products and fruit and nuts, and 2.1kg of fish and meat. All food should be able to last without refrigeration.

The government also advises keeping a medicine cabinet stocked with supplies in case it’s not possible to get to a hospital. That means, among other things, a first aid kit, the necessary personal prescription drugs, cold medicine, painkillers, anti-diarrhea and nausea medicine, electrolytes, a thermometer and disinfectant.

Here the anticipated survival time is two weeks, or fourteen days.

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I don’t know what the prophets, seers, and revelators of the First Presidency have been shown, what ISIS may be plotting, what German intelligence suspects, nor what the future has in mind for us. I do know that Matthew 6.34 counsels:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

and that this is generally considered sufficient precaution for the lilies of the field, but that readers of John Robb may well find it insufficiently flexible — if taken literally — to survive encounters with a succession of inbound black swans. And as is often the case with scripture, preparedness too has its place, as indicated by the “kingdom” parable of the wise and foolish virgins of Matthew 25.1-13.

I note here that the spiritual claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affords the First Presidency the opportunity to call for far more extensive planning than the German Chancellor can ask of her citizens without considerable brouhaha.

Hence:

Three months (minimally) to two weeks (suggested) is the recommended preparedness ratio between the (Mormon) Church and (German) State.

Whence does authority derive?

Vladimir Putin and St Vladimir, Church and State in Russia

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Saint Vlad II? Tsar Vlad? Impaler Vlad? Ras(KGB)Putin? — my latest piece, posted today at LapidoMedia ]
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Here’s the opening of my latest piece for LapidoMedia, exploring issues of Church and State — with an eye on Putin & Patriarch Kirill, and their join interest in the assassination / martydom of the Romanovs.

Vladimir Putin and St Vladimir, Church and State in Russia

THE Romanovs, the royal family of the Russian Tsars were killed, and some would say martyred, by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

But now, almost a century later, President Vladimir Putin, appears to be slowly rehabilitating the royals.

And the Romanovs’ reemergence has implications for Putin, a quasi-Tsar as Russian head of state, emphasizing renewed collaboration between Church and State, long estranged during Soviet rule.

Here as in many other ways, Putin works in close association with his fellow ex-KGB hand, Patriarch Kirill II of Moscow. Forbes described him as more than a mere informer saying he was ‘an active officer’ of the spy organization.

And Putin’s friend the Patriarch too has a keen interest in the rehabilitation of the Romanovs.

In a 2013 television broadcast on the significance of the Romanov family, he said: ‘A solemn Divine Liturgy was celebrated on March 6 in Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin, during which we commemorated all Romanovs, beginning with Mikhail Fedorovich, Aleksei Mikhailovich – the great gatherer of the Russian land, Peter I, and down to the Holy Passion-Bearer Nicholas II. We commemorated these people with thanks to God for their efforts and with prayers beseeching the Lord to grant rest to their souls in the abode of the righteous.’

To read the rest, including the end of my tale, looking at ideas that Vladimir Putin must surely have entertained– Saint Vladimir II? Tsar Vlad? Impaler Vlad? Ras(KGB)Putin? — please go to the Lapido site.

Enjoy.

Trump 1, Theology 0

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — politics wearing religion as a glove and vice versa, mostly re Trump but MB too ]
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This is a sort of anti-post for me, because it reports on a situation where theology is considered unimportant by pastor and Governor Mike Huckabee.

First, a DoubleTweet from Michelle Boorstein of WaPo:

Trump is speaking today at Trump Towers, it appears, and Boorstein has been tweeting excerpts of what he’s been telling 900 top evangelical and social conservative leaders behind closed doors — she has, it would appear, an ear to a leaky keyhole.

I’m not interested in the DoubleTweet-ishness here, Boorstein is simply dividing a comment that exceeds twitter’s 140 character rule into two parts to post it. But her message does indicate that the theological equivalent of “dress casual” is the tone of the meeting.

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Which is surely what caused Michael Farris, Founder and now Chancellor of Patrick Henry College, to post a FaceBook comment today picked up as an op ed in Christian Post under the stunning title, Trump’s Meeting With Evangelical Leaders Marks the End of the Christian Right.

Excerpts [I’ve collapsed the one-sentence-per-paragraph format here for ease of reading]:

I attended the very first meeting of the Moral Majority held in Indianapolis in February of 1980. I was the Washington state director of the MM and have been a leader of the “Christian right” ever since.

[ .. ]

The premise of the meeting in 1980 was that only candidates that reflected a biblical worldview and good character would gain our support. Today, a candidate whose worldview is greed and whose god is his appetites (Philippians 3) is being tacitly endorsed by this throng. They are saying we are Republicans no matter what the candidate believes and no matter how vile and unrepentant his character. They are not a phalanx of God’s prophets confronting a wicked leader, this is a parade of elephants.

In 1980 I believed that Christians could dramatically influence politics. Today, we see politics fully influencing a thousand Christian leaders.

This is a day of mourning.

**

Farris was politely dis-invited from the meeting on account of his known anti-Trump sentiments, but for my purposes, what’s interesting here is what the incident shows us about the vexed business of disentangling religion and politics. In dealing with religiously-related terrorism, the question often arises as to whether a given text or act is political, wearing religion as “cover” — or essentially religious, albeit with political implications.

In this case, it’s instructive (for me at least) to see that for Huckabee, politics is dominant, and wears religion as a glove or mask, whereas for Farris, it is religion that is dominant, albeit in the context of a presidential campaign which is by definition political.

Whether as Farris asserts, today’s meeting at Trump Towers “marks the end of the Christian Right” presumably depends on which of those two words one chooses to emphasize.

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FWIW, here’s the same “which is the hand, which is the glove” issue in Egypt:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faces a dilemma: Religion or politics?

Islamic State vs Saudi Arabia — Cole Bunzel’s new paper

Friday, February 26th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — contextualizing IS in terms of KSA, Abd al-wahhab and the Prophet, also an interior / eternal aspect of the “end times” ]
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Cole Bunzel, speaking with Charlie Rose

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As a poet, I keep my eyes peeled for the superposition of opposites in a small space. John Donne‘s great phrase, “At the round earth’s imagin’d corners, blow / Your trumpets, angels” manages to superpose the imaginary and actual, sacred and soon-to-be profane, flat earth and globe, in just four words, Shakespeare is even more concise with Rosalind‘s “you insult, exult, and all at once” in As You Like It, and Dylan Thomas is after the same effect in his line “Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray” in Do Not Go Gentle.

The poet is after a world in miniature, the balance of contraries. And so it is that I was stopped dead in my tracks on reading Cole Bunzel‘s sentence at the end of the second paragraph of the Introduction to his new paper, The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States:

One of those territories increasingly in its sights is Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest places and one-quarter of the world’s known oil reserves.

Bunzel is a PhD student writing a paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, so I’m expecting to be informed, yes, but this immediate, strong duality catches my attention — and it’s followed immediately with another at the start of his third paragraph:

The competition between the jihadi statelet and the Gulf monarchy is playing out on two levels, one ideological and one material.

The ideological and the material — holy places and oil reserves — in both phrasing we can recognize the world in a nutshell. And Bunzel will sharpen that sense of duality throughout, by contrasting Saudi Arabia, where possession of the resources has arguably warped the purity of creed as Abd al-Wahhab prtoposed it, with the Islamic State, which at least as it sees itself has maintained that “original” purity, and is now in a struggle for the resources to propagate its vision of Tawhid across the face of the earth.

As Bunzel puts it:

The comparison worth noting is the one in the minds of the Islamic State’s jihadi thinkers, the idea that Saudi Arabia is a failed version of the Islamic State. As they see it, Saudi Arabia started out, way back in the mid-eighteenth century, as something much like the Islamic State but gradually lost its way, abandoning its expansionist tendencies and sacrificing the aggressive spirit of early Wahhabism at the altar of modernity. This worldview is the starting point for understanding the contest between the kingdom and the caliphate, two very different versions of Islamic states competing over a shared religious heritage and territory.

Kingdom and caliphate: again, the elegant duality.

**

Let’s see now, how this duality — proclaimed, indeed in Bunzel’s title, The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States — plays out in his analysis:

The new king has described Saudi Arabia as the purest model of an Islamic state, saying it is modeled on the example of the Prophet Muhammad’s state in seventh-century Arabia. “The first Islamic state rose upon the Quran, the prophetic sunna [that is, the Prophet’s normative practice], and Islamic principles of justice, security, and equality,” he stated in a lecture in 2011. “The Saudi state was established on the very same principles, following the model of that first Islamic state.” What is more, the Saudi state is faithful to the dawa (mission) of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, meaning Wahhabism, upholding the “banner of tawhid” and “calling to the pure faith — pure of innovation and practices having no basis in the Quran, sunna, and statements of the Pious Forbears.”

The Islamic State makes the same claims for itself. It, too, models itself on the first Islamic state, as its early leadership stated upon its founding in October 2006: “We announce the establishment of this state, relying on the example of the Prophet when he left Mecca for Medina and established the Islamic state there, notwithstanding the alliance of the idolaters and the People of the Book against him.” Another early statement appealed to the Wahhabi mission, claiming that the Islamic State would “restore the excellence of tawhid to the land” and “purify the land of idolatry [shirk].”

Compare and contrast — it’s one of the oldest tricks in the intellectual book, and maybe the most powerful.

And it’s right there — the material in conjunction with the spiritual — from the beginning:

This first Saudi-Wahhabi state was the product of an agreement reached between the chieftain Muhammad ibn Saud and the preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the small desert oasis of Diriyah in central Arabia. The two leaders agreed to support each other, the Al Saud supporting the Wahhabi mission and the Wahhabi missionaries supporting Saudi political authority.

Religion and politics, politics and religion. Church and state, we might say, Caesar and God.

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But I shouldn’t inflict too much by way of this “dual” poetic formalism on my readers…

Bunzel details the three states at the juncture of Wahhabism and the House of Saud — “the first (1744–1818), the second (1824–1891), and the third (1902–present)” and proposes that we are now witnessing somethiung not unlike the genesis of a fourth:

Indeed, the Islamic State is a kind of fourth Wahhabi state, given its clear adoption and promotion of Wahhabi teachings.

But while the opposition Bunzel studies is between his third and fourth variants of Wahhabi-statehood, the analogy claimed in each of those cases is with the first.

Given that the House of al-Saud is the military partner of al-Wahhab-derived theology in the first three cases, their claim to contimuity with the first Wahhabi state, and thus also with the Prophet’s original state in Medina, is readily made:

The new king has described Saudi Arabia as the purest model of an Islamic state, saying it is modeled on the example of the Prophet Muhammad’s state in seventh-century Arabia. “The first Islamic state rose upon the Quran, the prophetic sunna [that is, the Prophet’s normative practice], and Islamic principles of justice, security, and equality,” he stated in a lecture in 2011. “The Saudi state was established on the very same principles, following the model of that first Islamic state.” What is more, the Saudi state is faithful to the dawa (mission) of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, meaning Wahhabism, upholding the “banner of tawhid” and “calling to the pure faith — pure of innovation and practices having no basis in the Quran, sunna, and statements of the Pious Forbears.”

Similarly, Bunzel notes, IS has claimed since its beginnings in late 2006:

We announce the establishment of this state, relying on the example of the Prophet when he left Mecca for Medina and established the Islamic state there, notwithstanding the alliance of the idolaters and the People of the Book against him.

While IS aspires not only to theological continuity but to a greater theological fidelity to al-Wahhab’s original Wahhabi state than the current regime, it regards the current state of the House of al-Saud as depraved and corrupt, in a manner quite different from the Prophet’s Medinan state — ridiculing it as “Al Salul” after “a leader of the so-called ‘hypocrites’ of early Islam who are repeatedly denounced in the Quran.”

The Saudi claim to be a Wahhabi state largely derives, let me suggest, from the al-Saud side of the original Wahhabi-Saudi alliance, while the Islamic State’s claim rests uniquely on the doctrine of al-Wahhab, viewed as a reformer who returned Islam to its original purity.

Indeed, Bunzel can cite an article “distributed by the Islamic State’s semiofficial al-Battar Media Agency” as describing thee IS mission as “an extension of Sheikh [Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s] mission.” And the similarity extends not just to that mission, but also to the opposition it arouses:

The author, who goes by Abu Hamid al-Barqawi, drew attention to the similar accusations made against the two states by their respective enemies, namely accusations of excess in the takfir (excommunication) and killing of fellow Muslims. He noted that both states were denounced as Kharijites, an early radical Muslim sect.

Thus we see, from the perspective of the Islamic state, another dualism repeating itself across history: this time between the original Companions of the Prophet and the abhorred Kharijite heretics, and the present followers of al-Baghdadi’s claim to the Caliphate and the Kharijite House of al-Saud.

In a further twist, both the House of al-Saud and Al-Qaida’s local branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, have accused the Islamic State precisely of being Kharijites, the Saudi Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al ash-Sheikh terming IS Kharijites who “believed that killing Muslims was not a crime, and we do not consider either of them Muslims”, while Jabhat’s spiritual adviser, Sami al-Aridi, has said:

The swords that God ordered us to use are many. One of these swords is the one pointed at Kharijites. This group [IS] has provided solid proof that it is Kharijite.

And who, again, are the Kharijites? I have quoted before now this hadith reported in Abu Dawud:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “There will be dissension and division in my nation and a people will come with beautiful words but evil deeds. They recite the Quran but it will not pass beyond their throats. They will leave the religion as an arrow leaves its target and they will not return until the arrow returns to its notch. They are the worst of the creation. Blessed are those who fight them and are killed by them. They call to the Book of Allah but they have nothing to do with it. Whoever fights them is better to Allah than them.”

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There is, of course, much more to Bunzel’s paper than I have captured here, but I would like to comment on one final issue, the one which I always return to — that of the end times, or eschatology. Bunzel writes:

The Islamic State’s apocalyptic dimension also lacks a mainstream Wahhabi precedent. As William McCants, a scholar of jihadism at the Brookings Institution, has set out in detail in a book on the subject, the group views itself as fulfilling a prophecy in which the caliphate will be restored shortly before the end of the world. While the Saudi Wahhabis and the Islamic State Wahhabis share an understanding of end times, only the latter view themselves as living in them.

In the light of our discussion above of the respective Islamic States of the Prophet himself at Medina, Abd al-Wahhab in conjunction with the original Saudi state, and the current Wahhabism of Baghdadi’s Caliphate, this naturally raises the question as to whether the Prophet’s Medina was an eschatological state, a topic which David Cook briefly addresses in the Introduction to Muslim Apocalyptic in his Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic:

The research of some scholars has indicated that Muhammad himself was impelled by a powerful belief in the proximity of the Last Day. For example, the Prophet is quoted as saying that some that see him will live to see the Dajjal (the Muslim anti-Christ).

Cook footnotes this claim with the following intriguing comment:

Though I do not wish to overspeculate as to the significance of this belief upon Muslim history, one cannot help but notice that the question of why Muhammad did not designate a successor is frequently asked. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that he genuinely did not believe that there would be time enough before the end of the world for anyone to succeed him. The very fact of some sort of will would show a lack of faith in the immediacy of the End.

Christianity, similarly, can be seen as an apocalyptic movement from its origin, with Christ similarly telling his followers “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1.15) and “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9.1).

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Here if I may, I shall turn speculative and poetic.

In his extraordinary reading of the Quran in The Apocalypse of Islam, Norman O Brown views the history of Islam as comprising “a series of decisive (requiring decision) apocalyptic moments, moments that will recur throughout a history that has no set end-point”:

These moments must (through the action, the cooperation with God’s call by the believer’s response) break through the crust of the familiar way of doing business (whether globalized or traditional), and lead one to an action that will necessarily be historical and personal (towards purification) because the drive of God’s will is always towards unity, both within and without.

The Islamic world today clearly anticipates the end times in the future, perhaps near, perhaps far, its date and hour necessarily unknown, and expects it to come upon us after various notable signs of the time have occurred –- the Shia with the return of the expected Twelfth Imam, now in ghayba or occultation, and the Sunni with the coming of the Mahdi and of the Prophet Issa (Jesus).

With regard to those notable signs, at 47.18 in the Arberry translation the Quran asks:

Are they looking for aught but the Hour, that it shall come upon them suddenly? Already its tokens have come; so, when it has come to them, how shall they have their Reminder?

Brown quotes Louis Massignon as calling Sura 18, The Cave, “the apocalypse of Islam” — and further suggests we should not apply enlightenment notions of linear time to a book, the Quran, which is itself both Revelation and Word. The poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal, in a phrase reminiscent of earlier Jewish and Christian texts, says of the Quran, “whole centuries are involved in its moments.”

Brown writes:

There is an apocalyptic or eschatological style: every Sura is an epiphany and a portent; a warning, “plain tokens that haply we may take heed” (XXIV, 1). The apocalyptic style is totum simul, simultaneous totality; the whole in every part. Hodgson on the Koran: “almost every element which goes to make up its message is somehow present in any given passage.”

Mathematicians will no doubt note the resonance here with the principle of holography, Buddhists with the Hua-Yen concept of the Jewel Net of Indra.

Brown, again referencing Massignon, who along with Henry Corbin was one of the major sources of his insight into Islam:

Massignon calls Sura XVIII the apocalypse of Islam. But Sura XVIII is a resume, epitome of the whole Koran. The Koran is not like the Bible, historical; running from Genesis to Apocalypse. The Koran is altogether apocalyptic. The Koran backs off from that linear organization of time, revelation, and history which became the backbone of orthodox Christianity … Islam is wholly apocalyptic or eschatological, and its eschatology is not teleology. The moment of decision, the Hour of Judgment, is not reached at the end of a line; nor by a predestined cycle of cosmic recurrence; eschatology can break out at any moment.

The End is in the Beginning — or as Eliot would have it, “And the end and the beginning were always there. Before the beginning and after the end.”

In the first sura on the Quran, al-Fatihah, The Opening, God is described first as “the All-merciful, the All-compassionate” (1.3), then as “Master of the Day of Doom” (1.4), and only then is there mention of humanity, in the words “Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succour” (1.5). According to a hadith reported in Tirmidhi, the Prophet said, “I was sent in the presence of the Final Hour.” To be present at the End, to be present at the Beginning — both are reminiscent of Christ’s extraordinary trans-temporal remark — perhaps the deepest teaching in the gospels, a true koan

Before Abraham was, I am.

Fidei Defensor — Henry VIII, Defender of the Faith

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Catholic Vespers at Hampton Court, February 2016 ]
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chapel-royal-hampton-court

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Yesterday, February 9th 2016, the (Cathlic) Cardinal Nichols celebrated the beautiful Vespers liturgy in Henry VIII‘s old chapel at Hampton Court Palace in London, with the (Anglican) Bishop of London and Dean of Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal, Dr Richard Chartres, delivering the sermon:

chapel royal

As the Guardian reported:

Almost half a millennium after the Act of Supremacy, which declared the Tudor king as the supreme head of the Church of England and formalised the break with Rome, England’s most senior Catholic cleric celebrated Vespers in the palace’s Chapel Royal on Tuesday evening.

The scent of incense filled the air beneath the chapel’s magnificent blue and gold ceiling as a small procession made its way towards the altar. Vincent Nichols, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, in a gold mitre and brocade robe, walked a few steps behind Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London and dean of the royal chapels, in a symbolic gesture of reconciliation.

The first Catholic service in the chapel for more than 450 years was hailed as “one for the history books” by John Studzinski of the Genesis Foundation, which jointly organised the event with the Choral Foundation. “Dialogue between faiths is much needed and welcomed in these turbulent times. We need to recognise that we have more in common than not.”

And Vatican Radio:

World renowned ensemble ‘The Sixteen’ which specializes in early English polyphonic music, will perform works from the Reformation period, highlighting how – in the cardinal’s words – “music can help us rediscover our roots and shared heritage” [ .. ]

Cardinal Nichols notes that the music has been chosen to fit the history of the Chapel Royal, featuring composers like Thomas Tallis who “lived through all the turbulence of the Reformation of 1535” and the subsequent decades during which, he says, the situation in England was “quite porous and quite subtle”. Tallis and others wrote both Catholic and Anglican music and in many ways, the Cardinal says, “the Chapel Royal captures the fluidity and ambiguity of the age”.

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So — two senior clerics belonging to rival churches managed to join in prayer — is that such a big thing?

If religion is a semi-cultish fad or superstition, nah. If religion is a major aspect of culture, maybe. If the divisions in Christianity are an offence against the God of Love and a voluntarily imposed obstacle to the workings of Love in the world, then yes, and this is a step in the right ecumenical direction.

From a secular British perspective, leaders of two rival versions of the same superstitions managed to agree with one another long enough to hold a joint press conference and a concert. The concert was first rate, the setting historic, the seating limited – tickets were allotted by ballot – and the whole event worth maybe a human interest column in the day’s news, well behind the bombing of some city in Syria.

Let’s call that the perspective from the ground up.

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But hold it. The secular mind works from the facts, the “material world” as Madonna put it, with priority given to survival, food, shelter, and other needs – but to the sacred mindset, it is the spiritual world, the world of inspiration and joy that takes priority. Myth, ritual, dream, poetry, romance – these are the elements in human culture which must deeply touch our hearts, our souls — and from that perspective, the event yesterday at Hampton Court was anything but unimportant.

Let’s call this the perspective sub specie aeternitatis — from above. Rene Daumal describes its benefits in his brilliant mountain-climbing novel, Mount Analogue:

What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.

Monarchy, like religion, is a matter of myth, ritual, dream, poetry, and romance. The stories of the kings and queens of England are replete with myth and legend – King Arthur, Guinevere, Sir Launcelot, the Holy Grail, Glastonbury. The royal year is shot through with ritual – the great Royal weddings, Trooping the Colour and Changing of the Guards, the opening of Parliament, the races at Royal Ascot, the tagging of swans during Swan Upping, and towering about them all, the successive Coronations of sovereigns down the ages.

In sum, the monarchy embodies, for those who see it, the dreams and poetry of the nation, its traditions and its aspirations. And pageantry is at the heart of those dreams, its richest expression, just as liturgy – the performance of the rites and services of the church — is at the heart of the church’s dream, each being the enactment, with all solemnity and symbolic force, of a great ordering and binding principle.

Where the prayerful and celestial liturgy of the church and the grand traditions of the monarchy come together, the spirituality, the pageantry, the music, the gorgeous robing, the sacred architecture and yes, nobility, come together to stir the deep national memory, elevating us to that double sense of identity conveyed in the great hymn, I Vow to Thee, My Country, with words by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice and music by Gustav Holst. This hymn rang out in a multitude of voices at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, at the Festival of Remembrance, at the funerals of Princess Diana, of Baroness Thatcher and Sir Winston Churchill, and it articulates the sense of a double world – “my country” and “another country”, the material and spiritual worlds in harmonious continuity – which is buried deep in the British consciousness.

I vow to thee, my country

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

That “other country” calls to mind Blake’s Albion, the sleeping Britain — the Britain of a possibility that transcends the Gross National Product, and lies at the heart of Britain’s reluctance to give over its sovereignty to the bureaucrats of Brussels.

All this is evoked by the grand ceremonial of Catholic Vespers accompanied by the prayers, incense and choral voices raised in prayer to the gilded rafters of Henry VIII’s Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, where Catholic worship last took place in the reign of “Bloody” Mary Tudor (1553-58). It is, if you will, a foretaste – in high British ceremonial style — of paradise.

And so yes, from a ceremonial, symbolic and mythic perspective, it was and is a big deal. It is a moment rich in the tapestry which interweaves heaven and earth, the sacred and secular realms – not to mention two great rival religious traditions. For yes, it was Catholic against Protestant that warred in Europe and gave us, finally, the Treaty of Westphalia, and the concept of the nation state, Catholic against Protestant that echoed from the Battle of the Boyne to the Belfast Troubles, Catholic against Protestant that sent Guido Fawkes plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament in an earlier era of sectarian hatred and religious terror…

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King Henry VIII was granted the title of Defensor Fidei or Defender of the Faith by a grateful Pope Leo X in 1521, in recognition of a treatise, Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which he had written attacking the “reformed” teachings of Martin Luther. In 1530, however, Henry broke from the Papacy and Catholic Church to establish the Church of England under his own royal authority, and was excommunicated and the title papally withdrawn. No matter, the British parliament confirmed Henry in the title soon after in its new sense, as Defender of the Faith of the Church of England – a title which continues to be held by British monarchs to this day.

During the coronation ceremony, the monarch swears an oath to govern the far-flung territories of the Commonwealth “according to their respective laws and customs”, “to cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed” in all the monarch’s judgments; and to protect the Church of England, of which the monarch is Supreme Governor. At the most recent British coronation, that of Queen Elizabeth II, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked:

Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?

— to which Her Majesty responded:

All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.

It is the Coronation Oath too, along with the twin sectarian meanings of the title Defensor Fidei, which is in play as we approach afresh the meanings of church and state, constitutional monarchy, in times both ecumenical and sectarian, secular and sacred, traditional, vitally present, and forward looking. The Catholic liturgy of Vespers, celebrated yesterday with all dignity and ceremonial in Henry VIII’s own chapel at Hampton Court is a reminder and a promise of the high spiritual, ritual and cultural possibilities to which our British traditions invite us.

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vespers-at-the-chapel-royal

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A video of yesterday’s ceremonial is not yet available, but I imagine this was the Magnificat that Harry Christophers and his choir sang…

I could live my life out under the shelter of such Magnificats.


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