Saturday, 31 March 2012

Poems for Lent (36): ‘Batter my heart, three person’d God’ by John Donne

John Donne ... “That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me ...”

John Donne (1572-1631) is remembered in the calendar of the Church of England other Anglican churches on 31 March. He is one of two priest poets remembered during Lent in Anglican calendars – the other being John Donne’s contemporary, George Herbert.

Donne has been hailed as an influence on many poets, including WB Yeats, TS Eliot and WH Auden. He is often regarded as one of the best of the metaphysical poets for his wit, metaphor, paradox, and imagery. His lyrics are unparalleled among the metaphysical poets for their passion, both physical and spiritual.

Many of his early poems express the anguish of unrequited love. After a dissolute early life, he married for love, and after becoming disillusioned with politics he was ordained a priest in 1615. He went on to become the Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, in 1621, and one of the most inspiring preachers of the 17th century.

His sacred works include a qualified apology for suicide, and an argument for Anglicanism.

The death of his wife deepened his work significantly, and it was in this period that he published Holy Sonnets, from which today’s poem, Holy Sonnet XIV, has been selected. Exciting Holiness includes a collect for today that is used on 31 March to commemorate John Donne and that draws on the imagery of this poem:

Batter our hearts, three-personed God,
that we, who have been overthrown by our sins,
may at the last rise with your servant John [Donne]
and sing with him the wonders if your love;
where you live and reign,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
God for ever, Amen.

But this is a poem that is appropriate for Lent too, for it is a poem about penitence, forgiveness and the hope for new life and Resurrection.

In this poem, he emphasises the role played by each person in the Holy Trinity plays in saving the penitent. As the heart is the gate to the body, he implores God the Father to break, not merely to knock, God the Holy Spirit to blow rather than breathe, and God the Son to burn, not just shine.

After imploring God to break into his heart, he says in his prayer that he loves God and wishes to be loved. But he finds himself in the same situation in which a woman has been forcibly betrothed to another. He asks God to take the role of a lover and free him. He knows the real security rests in the hands of God, and so invites God to capture him.

Batter my heart, three person’d God by John Donne

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Friday, 30 March 2012

Tributes paid to Coptic Pope Shenouda III

Today’s edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette [30 March 2012] carrries the following half-page report and photograph in ‘World News’ seciton on page 7:

Tributes paid to Coptic Pope
Shenouda III

The Church of Ireland’s Canon Patrick Comerford pictured recently with Pope Shenouda who was visiting Dublin [correction: the caption should say that the photograph was taken in Cairo, not in Dublin.]

Pope Shenouda III, spiritual leader of the Egyptian Coptic Church since 1971 and a President of the World Council of Churches (WCC) from 1991 to 1998, died at the age of 89 on St Patrick’s Day. He was the 117th Patriarch of Alexandria.

The Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, said as Egypt currently went through many political changes, “it is not easy for Egyptian Christians to lose Pope Shenouda,” adding: “I was not surprised to see hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Cairo … immediately after the announcement of the passing away of the beloved Pope, who was such an important symbol for the nation.”

Bishop Anis said that his Diocese’s relationship with the Coptic Orthodox Church was “the strongest among the different denominations in Egypt.”

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon, said Anglicans around the world had been saddened to hear of the death of Pope Shenouda, who “was a man of great holiness whose life was spent in the service of his people, even to the point of houe arrest”.

WCC General Secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, paid tribute to Pope Shenouda’s unwavering pursuit of Christian unity and peace throughout the Middle East and the world, as well as his strong belief in Christian-Muslim “conviviality and cooperation.”

Poems for Lent (35): ‘It is a thing most wonderful,’ by William Walsham How

‘I sometimes think about the cross,/ and shut my eyes, and try to see ...’ a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I have been canon-in-residence in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, for the past week. At Choral Evensong on Sunday afternoon, as I prepared to receive the collection and give the blessing, I listened attentively to the words of the closing hymn, ‘It is a thing most wonderful’ (Irish Church Hymnal, 226; New English Hymnal, 84), written as a poem in 1872 by Bishop William Walsham How (1823-1897).

The tune we used for this hymn on Sunday afternoon, Passion Sunday, is Herongate, an Essex folk song arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

William Walsham How, a solicitor’s son, was born in Shrewsbury in 1823 and educated at Shrewsbury School and Wadham College, Oxford (BA 1845). He was ordained in 1846, and was curate of Saint George’s, Kidderminster (1846), Holy Cross, Shrewsbury (1848), before becoming the Rector of Whittington in the Diocese of St Asaph in 1851. He was later a Rural Dean (1853), a canon of Saint Asaph Cathedral (1860), chaplain of the English church in Rome (1865) and Rector of Saint Andrew’s Undershaft, London, (1879).

He became a Suffragan Bishop for East London as Bishop of Bedford, and in 1888 he became the first Bishop of Wakefield, a new diocese in the industrial heartlands. His untiring work among the people of the docks and the slums earned him the title of “the poor man’s bishop,” and because he insisted on using public transport he was also known as the “omnibus bishop.” But he liked best his description as “the children’s bishop.” He died in Leenane, Co Mayo, in 1897, while on a fishing holiday in Dulough.

Bishop How, who was strongly influenced by the Tractarian Movement, was the author and editor of several collections of hymns, sermons and children’s stories, many of them published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), and he wrote at least sixty hymns.

His hymns are marked by pure rhythm as well as directness and simplicity, showing a comprehensive grasp of the subject and throwing unexpected light on their themes, with images interwoven with tender thoughts. Although he is seldom thought of as a poet, his hymns have outlived his other literary works and he is one of the most effective Victorian hymn writers.

Seven of his hymns are included in the Irish Church Hymnal. His most popular hymns include ‘For all the Saints who from their labours rest,’ (Irish Church Hymnal, 459; New English Hymnal, 197), ‘It is a thing most wonderful’ (Irish Church Hymnal, 226, New English Hymnal, 84), ‘To thee our God we fly (Irish Church Hymnal, 540, New English Hymnal, 127), and ‘Who is this so weak and helpless’ (New English Hymnal, 474).

‘It is a thing most wonderful’ was written by How, while he was Rector of Whittington in Shropshire – then in the Diocese of St Asaph but now in the Diocese of Lichfield – but it was not published until 1872.

The first version was five verses in length, but within 15 years he had added two more verses to the original. Through this hymn, How is trying to reveal the love of God by looking at the Cross through the eyes of a child. In the 1872 draft, he placed the text I John 4: 10 above the hymn: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

The tune ‘Herongate’ is one of several folksong melodies collected by Vaughan Williams. He transcribed the tune of ‘In Jesse’s City’ in 1903 when he heard a maid singing that song in Ingrave Rectory near Brentwood, about three miles from Herongate in Essex. It was first used with this hymn in 1906 in the first edition of the English Hymnal, which Vaughan Wlliams edited with Percy Dearmer.

All Saints’ Church, one of the two Anglican churches in Rome William Walsham How was chaplain here from 1865 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is a thing most wonderful, by William Walsham How

It is a thing most wonderful,
almost too wonderful to be,
that God’s own Son should come from heaven,
and die to save a child like me.

And yet I know that it is true:
he chose a poor and humble lot,
and wept and toiled, and mourned and died,
for love of those who loved him not.

I cannot tell how he would love
a child so weak and full of sin;
his love must be most wonderful,
if he could die my love to win.

I sometimes think about the cross,
and shut my eyes, and try to see
the cruel nails and crown of thorns,
and Jesus crucified for me.

But even could I see him die,
I could but see a little part
of that great love which, like a fire,
is always burning in his heart.

It is most wonderful to know
his love for me so free and sure;
but ’tis more wonderful to see
my love for him so faint and poor.

And yet I want to love thee, Lord,
O light the flame within my heart,
and I will love thee more and more,
until I see thee as thou art.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Anglican Studies (11.1): Is there an Anglican culture? Anthony Trollope and the ‘Barchester’ novels

But for many people their first introduction to Anglican culture is through the Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 29 March 2012, 10 a.m.:

11.1: Is there an Anglican culture? Anthony Trollope and the Barchester novels


Next week, we are asking whether there is such a thing as an “Anglican culture,” and shall be looking at the poetry of TS Eliot and the novels of Rose Macaulay, for example.

But for many people their first introduction to Anglican culture may come in the Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope (1815–1882).

Trollope, who lived in Ireland from 1841 to 1851, was one of the most successful, prolific and respected Victorian novelists. His best-loved works, collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around cathedral and church life in the imaginary county of Barsetshire.

Although Trollope also wrote perceptive novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters, his novels about Church life are among the important accounts of Anglican spirituality and culture in the Victorian era.

1, The Warden

The Warden is the first novel in Anthony Trollope’s series, the Chronicles of Barsetshire. Trollope said his first vision for The Warden came to him while walking in the cathedral close of Salisbury Cathedral. It was his fourth novel and was published in 1855.

The Warden concerns Canon Septimus Harding, the elderly warden of Hiram’s Hospital and Precentor of Barchester Cathedral.

Hiram’s Hospital is an almshouse supported by the income from a mediaeval charitable bequest to the Diocese of Barchester. The income maintains the almshouse itself, supports its twelve bedesmen, and, in addition, provides a comfortable abode and living for its warden. Canon Harding has been appointed to this position through the patronage of his old friend, the Bishop Grantly of Barchester, who is also the father of Archdeacon Grantly to whom Harding’s older daughter, Susan, is married.

The warden, who lives with his remaining child, an unmarried younger daughter, Eleanor, performs his duties conscientiously.

The story concerns the impact upon Harding and his circle when a zealous young reformer, John Bold, launches a campaign to expose the disparity in the apportionment of the charity’s income between its object, the bedesmen, and its officer, Canon Harding.

John Bold embarks on this campaign out of a spirit of public duty, despite his romantic involvement with Eleanor and previously cordial relations with Canon Harding.

Bold attempts to enlist the support of the press and engages the interest of The Jupiter (a newspaper representing The Times), whose editor, Tom Towers, pens editorials supporting reform of the charity, and presenting a portrait of Canon Harding as selfish and derelict in his conduct of his office.

This image is taken up by the commentators, Dr Pessimist Anticant and Mr Popular Sentiment, who have been seen as caricatures of Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens respectively.

Ultimately, despite much brow-beating by his son-in-law, the Archdeacon, and the legal opinion solicited from the barrister, Sir Abraham Haphazard, Mr Harding concludes that he cannot in good conscience continue to accept such generous remuneration and resigns the office.

John Bold, who has appealed in vain to Tom Towers to redress the injury to Mr Harding, returns to Barchester, where he marries Eleanor.

Those of the bedesmen of the hospital who have allowed their appetite for greater income to estrange them from the warden are reproved by their senior member, Bunce, who has been constantly loyal to Harding whose good care and understanding heart are now lost to them.

2, Barchester Towers

The second novel, Barchester Towers (1857), is possibly Trollope’s best known work. Among other things, it satirises the then raging antipathy in the Church of England between High Church and Evangelical adherents.

Barchester Towers concerns the leading citizens of the imaginary cathedral city of Barchester. The much loved bishop having died, all expectations are that his son, Archdeacon Grantly, will gain the office in his place.

Instead, owing to the passage of the power of patronage to a new Prime Minister, a newcomer, the far more Evangelical Bishop Proudie, gains the see. His wife, Mrs Proudie, exercises an undue influence over the new bishop, making herself unpopular with right-thinking members of the clergy and their families. Her interference in the reappointment of the universally popular Canon Septimus Harding (hero of The Warden) as warden of the hospital is not well received, although she gives the position to a needy clergyman with a large family to support.

Even less popular than Mrs Proudie is the bishop’s newly appointed chaplain, the hypocritical Revd Obadiah Slope, who takes a fancy to Harding’s wealthy widowed daughter, Eleanor Bold, and hopes to win her favour by interfering in the controversy over the wardenship.

The bishop, or rather Mr Slope under the orders of Mrs Proudie, also orders the return of the Revd Dr Vesey Stanhope from Italy. Dr Stanhope has been there, recovering from a sore throat, for 12 years and has spent his time catching butterflies. With him to the Cathedral Close comes his wife, and his three children.

The younger of Dr Stanhope’s two daughters causes consternation in the Palace and threatens the plans of Mr Slope. Signora Madelina Vesey Neroni is a crippled serial flirt with a young daughter and a mysterious husband whom she has left. Mrs Proudie is appalled by her and considers her an unsafe influence on her daughters, her servants and Mr Slope. Mr Slope is drawn like a moth to a flame and cannot keep away. Bertie Stanhope is a man skilled at spending money but not at making it; his two sisters think a marriage to rich Eleanor Bold will suit, and they pay off his debts.

Summoned by the local clergy to assist in the war against the Proudies and Mr Slope is another clergyman, the brilliant Revd Francis Arabin. Mr Arabin is a considerable scholar, a fellow of Lazarus College Oxford, and almost followed his mentor, John Henry Newman, into the Church of Rome. He is genuinely attracted to Eleanor, but the efforts of Archdeacon Grantly and his wife to stop her marrying Slope also interfere with any relationship that might develop.

Finally, at the Ullathorne garden party, matters come to a head. Mr Slope proposes and is slapped for his presumption, Bertie proposes and is refused with good grace and the Signora has a chat with Mr Arabin. Mr Slope’s double-dealings are now revealed and he is dismissed by Mrs Proudie, and the Signora. The Signora drops a delicate word in several ears and Mr Arabin and Eleanor become engaged.

The old dean of the cathedral having died it seems obvious that Mr Arabin should become the new dean, with a beautiful house in the Close, 15 acres of garden and an income even greater than that of his wife.

With the Stanhopes’ return to Italy, life in the Cathedral Close returns to its previous quiet and settled ways and Mr Harding continues his life of gentleness and music.

3, Doctor Thorne

The third Barchester novel, Doctor Thorne (1858), is mainly concerned with the romantic problems of Mary Thorne, niece of Doctor Thomas Thorne (a member of a junior branch of the family of Mr Wilfred Thorne, who appeared in Barchester Towers), and Frank Gresham, the only son of the local squire, although Trollope as the omniscient narrator assures the reader at the beginning that the hero is really the doctor.

The major themes in this book are the social pain and exclusion caused by illegitimacy, the nefarious effects of the demon drink, and the difficulties of romantic attachments outside one’s social class. The novel also gives a vivid picture of electioneering and all the just-legal shenanigans that accompany the event. Most of the action takes place in a village of Barsetshire and a country house not far off.

The idea of the plot was suggested to Trollope by his brother Thomas.

When their father dies, Doctor Thomas Thorne and his younger, ne’er-do-well brother Henry are left to fend for themselves. Dr Thorne begins to establish a medical practice, while Henry seduces Mary Scatcherd, the sister of stonemason Roger Scatcherd. When Scatcherd finds out that Mary has become pregnant, he seeks out Henry and, in the ensuing fight, kills him.

While her brother is in prison, Mary gives birth to a girl. A former suitor offers to marry her and emigrate to start a new life, but refuses to take the baby. Dr Thorne persuades her to accept the generous offer, promising to raise his niece. He names her Mary Thorne but, wishing neither to have her illegitimacy made public nor to have her associate with the uncouth Roger Scatcherd, he keeps her birth secret. He tells Scatcherd that the baby had died.

After his release from prison, Scatcherd rises quickly in the world. In time, his skills make him extremely rich. When he completes a seemingly-impossible important project on time, he is created a baronet for his efforts. Throughout his career, he entrusts his financial affairs to Dr Thorne. When Thorne becomes the family doctor to the Greshams, he persuades Scatcherd to loan ever growing sums to the head of the family, the local squire. Eventually, much of the Gresham estate is put up as collateral.

Meanwhile, Mary grows up with the Gresham children and becomes a great favourite with the whole family. As a result, Thorne feels obliged to tell his friend the squire her secret.

Mary falls in love with Frank Gresham, the son and heir of the squire of Greshamsbury and nephew of the Earl and Countess De Courcy, and he with her. However, his parents desperately need him to marry wealth, in order to rescue them from the financial distress resulting from the squire’s expensive and fruitless campaigns for a seat in Parliament.

His snobbish mother and aunt wish him to marry an eccentric, if kind-hearted, older heiress, Martha Dunstable. He reluctantly visits her at Courcy Castle and they become friends. But foolishly and playfully he proposes. She demurs, knowing that he does not love her, and he tells her about his love for Mary.

Sir Roger is a drunkard, and Dr Thorne tries in vain to get him to curtail his drinking. In his will, he stipulates that bulk of his estate should go to his odious, dissolute only son Louis Philippe, but leaves Dr Thorne in control of the inheritance until the heir reaches the age of 25. Should Louis die before then, Scatcherd stipulates that the estate must go to the eldest child of his sister Mary. Dr Thorne is forced to divulge Mary’s history, but Scatcherd leaves the will unchanged.

Sir Roger eventually dies of his excesses, and Sir Louis inherits his vast wealth. The son proves just as much an alcoholic as the father, and his weaker constitution quickly brings him to the same end. After consulting with many lawyers, Dr Thorne confirms that his Mary is the heiress, richer than even Miss Dunstable.

Unaware of these proceedings, the more-resolute Frank finally persuades his doting father to consent to his marriage to Mary. When all is revealed, everyone is elated, even Frank’s mother and Countess De Courcy.

4, Framley Parsonage

The fourth novel, Framley Parsonage, was first published in serial form in the Cornhill Magazine in 1860.

The hero of Framley Parsonage, the Revd Mark Robarts, is a young vicar, newly arrived in the village of Framley in Barsetshire. The living has come into his hands through Lady Lufton, the mother of his childhood friend Ludovic, Lord Lufton.

Mark Robarts has ambitions to further his career and begins to seek connections in the county’s high society. He is soon preyed upon by local MP, Mr Sowerby, to guarantee a substantial loan, which Mark in a moment of weakness agrees to, even though he does not have the means and knows Sowerby to be a notorious debtor.

The consequences of this blunder play a major role in the plot, with Mark eventually being publicly humiliated when bailiffs begin to confiscate the Robarts’s furniture. At the last moment, Lord Lufton forces a loan on the reluctant Mark.

Another plot line deals with the romance between Mark’s sister Lucy and Lord Lufton. The couple are deeply in love and the young man proposes, but Lady Lufton is against the marriage. She would prefer that her son instead choose the coldly beautiful Griselda Grantly, daughter of Archdeacon Grantly, and fears that Lucy is too “insignificant” for such a high honour.

Lucy herself recognises the great gulf between their social positions and declines. When Lord Lufton persists, she agrees only on condition that Lady Lufton asks her to accept her son. Lucy’s conduct and charity (especially towards the family of the poor curate, the Revd Josiah Crawley) weaken Lady Lufton’s resolve. In addition, Griselda becomes engaged to Lord Dumbello. But it is the determination of Lord Lufton that in the end vanquishes the doting mother.

The book ends with Lucy and Ludovic’s marriage as well as three other marriages of minor characters. Two of these involve the daughters of Bishop Proudie and Archdeacon Grantly. The rivalry between Mrs Proudie and Mrs Grantly over their matrimonial ambitions forms a significant comic subplot, with the latter triumphant. The other marriage is that of the outspoken heiress, Martha Dunstable, to Dr Throne, the eponymous hero of the third novel in the series.

5, The Small House at Allington

The Small House at Allington, the fifth Barchester novel, was published in 1864. The novel concerns the Dale family, who live in the “Small House,” a dower house intended for the widowed mother (Dowager) of the owner of the estate. The landowner, in this instance, is the bachelor Squire of Allington, Christopher Dale. Dale’s mother having died, he has allocated the Small House, rent free, to his widowed sister-in-law and her daughters Isabella (“Bell”) and Lilian (“Lily”).

Lily has for a long time been secretly loved by John Eames, a junior clerk at the Income Tax Office, while Bell is in love with the local doctor, James Crofts. The handsome and personable, but somewhat mercenary Adolphus Crosbie is introduced into the circle by the squire’s nephew, Bernard Dale. Adolphus rashly proposes marriage to portionless Lily, who accepts him, to the dismay of John Eames.

Crosbie soon jilts her in favour of Lady Alexandrina de Courcy, whose family is in a position to further his career. Lily meets her misfortune with patience, and remains single, continuing to reject Eames, though retaining his faithful friendship. Bell marries Dr Crofts, after refusing an offer of marriage from her cousin Bernard.

As with all of Trollope's novels, this one contains many sub-plots and numerous minor characters. Plantagenet Palliser (of the Pallisers series) makes his first appearance, as he contemplates a dalliance with Griselda Grantly, the now-married Lady Dumbello, daughter of the archdeacon introduced earlier in the Chronicles of Barsetshire.

6, The Last Chronicle of Barset

The final Barchester novel, The Last Chronicle of Barset, was first published in 1867. This novel concerns an indigent but learned clergyman, the Revd Josiah Crawley, the curate of Hogglestock, as he stands accused of stealing a cheque.

The novel is notable for the non-resolution of a plot continued from the previous novel in the series, The Small House at Allington, involving Lily Dale and Johnny Eames. Its main storyline features the courtship of Crawley’s daughter, Grace, and Major Henry Grantly, son of the wealthy Archdeacon Grantly.

The archdeacon, although allowing that Grace is a lady, does not think her of high enough rank or wealth for his widowed son; his position is strengthened by Crawley’s apparent crime.

Almost broken by poverty and trouble, Crawley hardly knows himself if he is guilty or not; fortunately, the mystery is resolved just as Major Grantly’s determination and Grace Crawley’s own merit force the archdeacon to overcome his prejudice against her as a daughter-in-law.

As with Lucy Robarts in Framley Parsonage, the objecting parent finally invites the young lady into the family; this new connection also inspires the dean and archdeacon to find a new, more prosperous, post for Grace’s impoverished father.

Through death or marriage, this final volume manages to tie up more than one thread from the beginning of the series. One subplot deals with the death of Mrs Proudie, the virago wife of the Bishop of Barchester, and his subsequent grief and collapse. Mrs Proudie, upon her arrival in Barchester in Barchester Towers, had increased the tribulations of the gentle Canon Harding, the title character of The Warden. He dies of a peaceful old age, mourned by his family and the old men he loved and looked after as Warden.

Barchester on television

The Barchester Chronicles is a 1982 BBC television serial adaptation of the first two Barchester novels, The Warden and Barchester Towers. The series, directed by David Giles, was largely filmed in and around Peterborough Cathedral, where the locations included the Deanery and Laurel Court.

The series starred Donald Pleasence as Mr Harding, Nigel Hawthorne as Archdeacon Grantly, Angela Pleasence as Mrs Grantly, Cyril Luckham as Bishop Grantly, David Gwillim as John Bold, George Costigan as Tom Towers, John Ringham as Finney,Barbara Flynn as Mary Bold, Janet Maw as Eleanor Harding, Clive Swift as Bishop Proudie, Geraldine McEwan as Mrs Proudie, Alan Rickman as Obadiah Slope, Susan Hampshire as Signora Madeline Neroni, and Ursula Howells as Miss Thorne.

Next week:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012:

2.30 p.m., 11.2: Is there an Anglican culture? The poetry of TS Eliot.

3.30 p.m., 11.3: Is there an Anglican culture? Rose Macaulay and The Towers of Trebizond


1, Essays

2, Evaluations

3, Dissertation proposals

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were published online on Thursday 29 March 2012 as an introduction to a seminar on ‘Anglican Culture’ on the MTh Year II course, EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Tuesday 3 April 2012.

Anglican Studies (10.2): The next Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Rowan Williams ... how is the next Archbishop of Canterbury going to be chosen?

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 29 March 2012, 10 a.m.:

10.2: The next Archbishop of Canterbury

Bishops in the Church of England have sometimes been perceived as presenting the vote on the Anglican Covenant as a vote of confidence in the Archbishop of Canterbury. Was the decision of the Archbishop of Canterbury to announce his retirement before the “Super Saturday” vote an acknowledgment that the Covenant was defeated? Did his decision give the remaining dioceses “permission,” as it were, to vote against the Covenant?

We may never answer these questions. But we may like to ask how is the next Archbishop of Canterbury going to be chosen?

The responsibility for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury rests with the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC). Its task is to submit the name of a preferred candidate (and a second appointable candidate) to the Prime Minster who is constitutionally responsible for tendering advice on the appointment to the Queen.

The membership of the CNC is prescribed in the Standing Orders of the General Synod of England. When an Archbishop of Canterbury is to be chosen there are 16 voting members:

● The Chair (a layperson) – to be appointed by the Prime Minister
● A Bishop - to be elected by the House of Bishops
● The Archbishop of York or, if he chooses not to be a member of the CNC, a further Bishop to be elected by the House of Bishops
● Six representatives elected from the Diocese of Canterbury by their Vacancy in See Committee
● The six representatives (three clergy and three lay) elected by General Synod to serve as members of the Commission for a five-year period
● A member of the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Communion elected by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

In addition, there are three non-voting members of the commission:

● the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion
● the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary
● the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments

Before the Commission first meets there will be an extensive consultation process to determine the needs of the diocese, the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. This has several phases;

● The diocesan Vacancy in See Committee prepares a brief description of the diocese and a statement setting out the desired profile of the new Archbishop
● The Prime Minister’s and Archbishops’ Secretaries for Appointments conduct a wider consultation exercise to inform the Commission’s consideration of the needs of the mission of the wider Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

The expectation is that the Commission will have an initial meeting around the end of May to agree its process, which is likely to continue over the summer. The number of meetings to take place is for the Commission to determine.

The process will among other things include:

● A review of background material and results of the consultations, discussion of the challenges for the next Archbishop and, in the light of these, consideration of the personal qualities required
● Consideration of candidates
● Voting to identify the recommended candidate and a second appointable candidate, whose names then go forward to the Prime Minister.

Canterbury Cathedral .... the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Since 2007, the agreed convention in relation to episcopal appointments has been that the Prime Minister commends the name preferred by the Commission to the Queen. The second name is identified in case, for whatever reason, there is a change of circumstances which means that the appointment of the CNC’s recommended candidate cannot proceed.

Once the Queen has approved the chosen candidate and he has indicated a willingness to serve, 10 Downing St announces the name of the Archbishop-designate.

The College of Canons of Canterbury Cathedral formally elect the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

The election is confirmed by a commission of diocesan bishops in a legal ceremony (the Confirmation of Election), which confers the office of Archbishop on him.

The new Archbishop does homage to Her Majesty.

The new Archbishop is formally enthroned in Canterbury Cathedral.

There are six principal aspects to the job of the Archbishop of Canterbury:

1, The Archbishop is the Bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. He has delegated much of his responsibility for the diocese to the Bishop of Dover, who leads a senior staff team of the Dean, three Archdeacons and the Diocesan Secretary. The Archbishop continues to take a keen interest in the affairs of the diocese, to attend staff and other meetings, the annual residential staff meeting, and the Archbishop’s Council of the diocese when possible.

2, The Archbishop of Canterbury is also a Metropolitan, having metropolitical jurisdiction throughout the 30 dioceses of the Province of Canterbury in the Church of England. As such, he can conduct formal visitations of those dioceses. Establishing close links with bishops in his province is an important part of his work and he visits three dioceses each year.

It is a Metropolitan’s responsibility to act as the chief consecrator at the consecration of new bishops, to grant various permissions, licences and faculties, to appoint to parishes where the patron has failed to do so within the prescribed time limits, to act as Visitor of various institutions and release, where appropriate, those who have taken religious vows.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York are joint Presidents of the General Synod of the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is Chair and the Archbishop of York Vice-Chair of the House of Bishops and the Crown Nominations Commission. Two Provincial Episcopal Visitors (“flying bishops”) report to the Archbishop in relation to the 163 parishes in the southern province which have petitioned for extended episcopal care under the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod.

3, As leader of the “Church by Law Established” the Archbishop, in his capacity as Primate of All England, is “chaplain to the nation,” classically exemplified at a coronation. More routinely he has regular audiences with the Queen and the Prime Minister, and is frequently in touch with senior Ministers of State and with the Leaders of Opposition parties. In addition, both Archbishops and 24 other senior bishops have seats in the House of Lords.

4, The Archbishop is the Focus of Unity for the Anglican Communion. He is the convener and the host of the Lambeth Conference, the President of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), and Chair of the Primates’ meeting. In these roles he travels extensively throughout the Anglican Communion, visiting provinces and dioceses, and supporting and encouraging the witness of the Church in very diverse contexts. As primus inter pares among the bishops, he has a special concern for those in episcopal ministry.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is, along with the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Patriarch, widely regarded as an international spiritual leader, representing the Christian Church. On overseas visits, a meeting with the Head of State is almost always a part of the programme, as are meetings with other significant political persons.

5, The Archbishop has a national and international ecumenical role; nationally he is one of the Presidents of Churches Together in England, who provide strategic guidance to ecumenical endeavours.

6, The Archbishop takes the lead in relationships with members of other faith communities both in this country and overseas, reflecting the increasing significance of those communities for the context in which the Church’s mission and ministry take place.

Online later today:


11.1: Is there an Anglican culture? Anthony Trollope and the Barchester novels.

Next week:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012, 2.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.:

2.30 p.m.: 11.2: Is there an Anglican culture? The poetry of TS Eliot.

3.30 p.m.: 11.3: Is there an Anglican culture? Rose Macaulay and The Towers of Trebizond.


1, Essays.

2, Evaluations.

3, Dissertation proposals.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a seminar on the MTh Year II course, EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Thursday 29 March 2012

Anglican Studies (10.1): The Anglican Covenant – does it have a future?

Patrick Comerford

MTh Year II

Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 10 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 29 March 2012, 10 a.m.:

10.1: The Anglican Covenant: does it have a future?

The Anglican Covenant is a proposed solution to the public conflicts and threats of schism within the Anglican Communion over the past decade or so.

The idea of a covenant was first suggested in the Windsor Report (2004), which responded sympathetically to the complaints from those parts of the Anglican Communion – described variously described as conservative, traditionalist, or orthodox – that were dissatisfied with developments in the churches of the West, including the election of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire (the US), and the blessing of same-gender partnership in the Diocese of New Westminster (Canada).

But it is sometimes forgotten that the Windsor Report also addressed concerns of cross-border interventions by bishops from the so-called “Global South” in the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Ridley Hall, Cambridge, founded in 1881 … the Ridley Cambridge Draft was finalised there in April 2009 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Covenant went through a number of drafts and comment periods before a “final” text was codified in December 2009. The 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion have since been asked to adopt this text. In June 2010, the Anglican Church of Mexico became the first church to do so.

The Covenant is immediately effective for churches that adopt it. Churches adopting the Covenant commit themselves to a new relationship with other Anglican churches. Churches that do not sign up to the covenant or are in the process of adoption may be allowed to take part in certain Covenant-defined activities, though their status is not completely clear.

At the centre of the new arrangement is the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, formerly the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and Primates’ Meeting.

When conflicts arise, the Standing Committee is to seek consensus. If no consensus is found, the Standing Committee may ask an “offending” church to delay or stop a controversial action.

If that request is ineffective, the Standing Committee can recommend “relational consequences.”

In practice, would enacting “relational consequences” mean demoting or excluding a church from participation in certain bodies?

Or would it mean asking other provinces effectively to shun the offending church, banishing it from the Anglican family?

Even if such extreme actions are never taken, at the heart of the new covenanted relationship among Anglican Churches would always be the threat of exclusion.

At Lambeth 2008, it was initially made clear to the bishops that the conference was not a legislative meeting and that there would be no voting. A series of meetings on the proposed covenant was held.

The bishops were divided up into daily Indaba groups or discussion groups of about 40 bishops each, and the covenant was a discussion topic on one day.

Though there was no voting, the report that came from Lambeth 2008 said that a majority of bishops present favoured an Anglican Covenant.

In December 2009, the text of The Anglican Communion Covenant was sent to all the member churches of the Anglican Communion asking them to consider it for adoption according to their own internal procedures.

At the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Armagh last year, the Church of Ireland “subscribed” to the Covenant on 13 May 2011. But the General Synod also made it clear that the Covenant did not supplant existing governing documents of the Church of Ireland.

In the Church of England, the Act of Synod adopting the Covenant was sent to the diocesan synods before it could have any possibility of returning to the General Synod for approval.

The General Synod of the Church of England voted on 24 November 2010 to send the Covenant to diocesan synods. If a majority of synods vote in favour of adopting the Covenant, the question would then be brought back to General Synod for a final vote. The first diocesan synod to vote, Wakefield, rejected the Covenant on 12 March 2011, but it was adopted by the Diocesan Synod of Lichfield a week later, on 19 March 2011.

A year later, 38 of the 44 dioceses of the Church of England, have voted to date:

● 22 have voted against the Covenant returning to the General Synod for a final vote: Bath and Wells, Birmingham, Chelmsford, Derby, Ely, Gloucester, Hereford, Leicester, Lincoln, Liverpool, Oxford, Portsmouth, Ripon and Leeds, Rochester, St Albans, St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Salisbury, Sodor and Man, Southwark, Truro, Wakefield, Worcester.

● 16 have voted for it: Blackburn, Bradford, Bristol, Canterbury, Carlisle, Chester, Coventry, Durham, Exeter, Europe, Guildford, Lichfield, Norwich, Peterborough, Sheffield, and Winchester.

● There were six crucial votes on Saturday last [24 March 2012]: Blackburn, Exeter, Guilford, Lincoln, Oxford, Peterborough. London votes today [Thursday, 29 March 2012], and Manchester votes on Saturday [31 March 2012], and four more dioceses vote between then and the end of next month: Southwell and Nottingham (12 April), Chichester (21 April), and both Newcastle and York (28 April).

Last Saturday’s vote by the diocesan synod of Lincoln brought the number of dioceses opposing the Covenant to the crucial half-way mark or number of 22. The majority of diocesan synods have now voted against the covenant, despite the support it has from the vast majority of bishops in the Church of England.

One commentator described last Saturday’s series of votes in diocesan synods of the Church of England as “Super Saturday.” That truly applied to the voting at the end of last week.

As a consequence, the Church of England cannot now sign up to the Anglican Covenant, which many have seen as the one plan that might have prevented the global Anglican Communion from fracture and division.

During the voting in the diocesan synods, a consistent the pattern emerged: around 80% of the bishops voted in favour of the covenant, but the clergy and laity votes have split around 50-50 for and against, with votes against nudging ahead among the clergy. Does that suggest that the bishops are out of touch with faithful Anglican churchgoers and clergy in England, as Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch of Oxford suggested in The Guardian earlier this week [25 March 2012]?

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, supported the Anglican Covenant in an effort to ensure divisive issues – including gay and lesbian bishops – do not split the Anglican Communion. However, the covenant had already been rejected by conservative many Anglican leaders around the world, even though they are the ones it was intended to placate.

Archbishop Williams has said the Anglican Covenant is about the autonomous, self-governing member Churches of the Anglican Communion being “accountable to each other in the Communion.” Defending the Covenant, he said it would not give anybody the power to do anything but recommend courses of action.

However, critics have said the Anglican Covenant is in danger of undermining the traditional independence or autonomy of the member churches of the Anglican Communion.

The concept of an Anglican Covenant grew out of fears that disagreements over the divisive issues between different provinces of the Anglican Communion would lead to irreconcilable division between the Church.

The arguments included the appointment of bishops in non-celibate gay relationships, including Bishop Gene Robinson of new Hampshire, and the blessing of same-gender unions, in Anglican dioceses in the US and Canada.

Some provinces in Africa, Latin America and Asia vehemently condemned these developments.

When an Anglican covenant was first proposed within the recommendations of the Windsor Report, Bishop Bob Anderson warned the House of Bishops in the US that if the Anglican Covenant became a reality, it would change the nature of Anglicanism.

The Primate of Korea said his church would reject the covenant, because, in their considered opinion, to accept it would be to internalise the colonialism that he felt existed in the relationship between the Anglican provinces of the West and their province.

Provinces critical of the actions of the North American churches have formed a separate grouping known as Gafcon (from the Global Anglican Future Conference held in 2008).

They also supported the foundation of breakaway churches in North America, and these actions served only to worsen the divisions within the Anglican Communion.

Looking at the Covenant

The Anglican Covenant seeks to commit member churches of the Anglican Communion to respect each other’s autonomy, and to “spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God.”

The covenant provides for the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) to consider whether an action by one autonomous Anglican province complies with Anglican teaching if other Churches disagree with it.

Under the covenant, the Standing Committee could request a Church to defer a controversial action, and having consulted other bodies within the Anglican Communion, may declare that an action would be “incompatible with the Covenant.”

The Church of England General Synod backed the covenant in November 2010, despite the misgivings of many, and referred it to the dioceses.

But the covenant received a decisive setback immediately afterwards when it was rejected by the Gafcon Primates’ Council – seen by many as the very Church leaders that the Covenant was intended to placate.

The Gafcon leaders said: “While we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned, we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.”

The 38 self-governing provinces of the Anglican Communion were asked to sign an agreement under which a Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion would consider actions such as the ordination of gay bishops and whether they were compatible with Anglican teaching.

Those member churches that declined to sign the Anglican Covenant would continue to be Anglicans inside the Anglican Communion, but in an outer or slower tier.

Seven member churches of the Anglican Communion have already ratified the Anglican Covenant (or “subscribed” to it in the case of the Church of Ireland):

● The Church of Ireland
● The Anglican Church of Mexico
● The Church of the Province of Myanmar (Burma)
● The Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea
● The Church of the Province of South East Asia
● The Anglican Church of Southern Africa
● The Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America
● The Church in the Province of the West Indies

In the case of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the covenant has been approved pending ratification at the next General Synod which is usual procedure in that province. In the case of South-East Asia, the word use was “acceded,” in the Southern Cone the word used was “approved,” and it the West Indies it was “accepted.” But the covenant has been rejected in the Philippines, and it looks as though it is going to be rejected in New Zealand.

The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon, indicated after the votes last weekend that the Anglican Covenant is still alive and on the agenda of the member provinces of the Anglican Communion.

What next steps are taken by the Church of England is up to the Church of England, Canon Kearon said at the weekend. But he said that “consideration of the Covenant continues across the Anglican Communion and this was always expected to be a lengthy process. I look forward to all the reports of progress to date at the ACC-15 in New Zealand in November.”

Canon Kenneth Kearon ... “consideration of the Covenant continues across the Anglican Communion and this was always expected to be a lengthy process. I look forward to all the reports of progress to date at the ACC-15 in New Zealand in November.”

Criticism of the Covenant:

Many opponents of the Covenant within the Church of England would say that they believe in an Anglicanism adapted to local needs and based on a shared heritage of worship, but not on specific understandings of church doctrines to which all must subscribe. Their view of Anglicanism, they say, leads them to conclude that the Anglican Covenant is “profoundly un-Anglican.”

They would argue that the fourth part of the covenant contains a mechanism whereby “errant” provinces could have their status as full and equal members of the Anglican Communion reduced.

Other critics argue that the Anglican Covenant seeks to codify the love that should already be there and to ratify the fear that inspired the Windsor Report.

Writing in The Guardian earlier this week [26 March 2012], after that absolute majority of dioceses in the Church of England had voted down the Anglican Covenant, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of History of the Church at the University of Oxford, described the covenant as “a pernicious scheme” and a “sorry diversion.”

He sees the Covenant as an attempt “to increase the power of centralising bureaucracy throughout the … Anglican Communion.”

For Diarmaid MacCulloch, the principal aim of the Covenant was to discipline the Anglican churches in the US and Canada.

Some questions:

The compass rose, the symbol of the Anglican Communion … it is surmounted by a bishop’s mitre, in the centre is the cross of Saint George, and the Greek motto, Ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς (“The truth will set you free”), a quotation from John 8: 32.

Would the Covenant bring a measure of discipline and accountability into relationships between the member churches of the Anglican Communion?

Those who support the Anglican Covenant say other Anglican member churches may still ratify the Anglican Covenant. Would this leave the Church of England in the second, outer, tier of a world-wide communion?

Without the Anglican Covenant, can the Anglican Communion hold together as a spiritual body, yet whose bonds are more than affection, where each community within the Anglican Communion is respected equally?

Would the Anglican Communion collapse without the covenant?

Would the Anglican Communion collapse without the Church of England?

Is it fair to argue that the covenant would not change much? If so, why was it introduced?

Is it possible, as Diarmaid McCulloch, describes it, to lay down the law “in that delicate, nuanced thing that is religious belief?” Or do “you end up damaging or hurting a great many people”?

The fourth part – the part “with teeth” – has stayed in every draft of the covenant. Does this make it a firmly fixed, constituent part of the covenant? Is accepting any part of the covenant to be taken as approval of the fourth part as well?

Dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion have “companion diocese” links, and a variety of lines of mutual ministry and service across the whole Communion. Is affirming the Covenant necessary to hold the Anglican Communion together?

Some additional thoughts

Richard Hooker’s statue at Exeter Cathedral ... he set out the Anglican theological method of Scripture, Reason and Tradition

The issue underlying the conflicts in the Anglican Communion is one of authority. Who decides what is acceptable and on what basis do they do so?

Concern about homosexuality resulted in a powerful alliance of some Evangelicals and some Anglo-Catholics opposing the “innovations” of more liberal and tolerant Anglicans. The Evangelicals objected to homosexuality on the basis of what they see as biblical prohibitions, and Anglo-Catholics objected to the alleged rejection of Church tradition.

Classic Anglican theology stems from the writings of the 16th century theologian Richard Hooker, who argued in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity that, in addition to scripture and tradition, we have reason to guide us. With these three sources of authority – Scripture, Reason and Tradition – change becomes possible and proper as conditions and understandings change and allowing a diversity of opinion allows us to explore new possibilities.

But Evangelicals are worried less about a change in interpreting Scripture as a rejection of Scripture and its authority.

Have the traditional forms of holding Anglicans together – the Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Four Instruments of Communion – lost their effectiveness in holding together the Anglican Communion?

Appendix 1: The Lambeth Quadrilateral

Lambeth Palace, seen from Westminster on the opposite bank of the River Thames ... the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury also gives its name to the Lambeth Conference(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, frequently referred to as the Lambeth Quadrilateral or the Lambeth-Chicago Quadrilateral, is a four-point articulation of Anglican identity, often cited as encapsulating the fundamentals of the Anglican Communion’s doctrine and as a reference-point for ecumenical discussion with other Christian denominations.

The four points are:

1, The Holy Scriptures, as containing all things necessary to salvation
2, The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed) as the sufficient statement of Christian faith
3, The Sacrament of Baptism and Holy Communion.
4, The historic episcopate, locally adapted.

Resolution 11 of the third Lambeth Conference (1888) reads:

That, in the opinion of this Conference, the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards Home Reunion:
(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
(b) The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

Appendix 2: The instruments of communion in the Anglican Communion:

The Primates of the Anglican Communion at their meeting in Swords, Co Dublin, last year. Seated on each side of Archbishop Rowan Williams are Archbishop Alan Harper and Canon Kenneth Kearon; in the back row (second from left) is the Irish-born Scottish primus, Bishop David Chillingworth

The Anglican Communion is served by four “Instruments of Communion”:

1, The Archbishop of Canterbury
2, The Lambeth Conferences
3, The Primates’ Meeting
4, The Anglican Consultative Council


Anglican Studies (10.2): The next Archbishop of Canterbury

Online later today:

11.1: Is there an Anglican culture? Anthony Trollope and the Barchester novels.

Next week:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012:

2.30 p.m., 11.2: Is there an Anglican culture? The poetry of TS Eliot.

3.30 p.m., 11.3: Is there an Anglican culture? Rose Macaulay and The Towers of Trebizond


1, Essays

2, Evaluations

3, Dissertation proposals

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a lecture and seminar on the MTh Year II course, EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context, on Thursday 29 March 2012

Poems for Lent (34): ‘Julian at the Mysteries’ by CP Cavafy

‘I’m frightened, friends. I want to leave. / Didn’t you see how the demons vanished / the second they saw me make / the holy sign of the cross?’ (CP Cavafy)

Patrick Comerford

My Poem for Lent this morning is ‘Julian at the Mysteries’ by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης) (1863-1933), who lived in Alexandria and worked as a journalist and civil servant.

Cavafy was instrumental in the revival and recognition of Greek poetry both at home and abroad, and his best-known poems include ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ (1904) ‘Ithaca’ (1911), ‘The City,’ and ‘The god abandons Antony’ (1911).

Cavafy wrote 12 poems on the theme of Julian the Apostate, and his reading notes on Gibbon’s Decline and Fall show how obsessed he was with the apostate fourth century emperor. Five of these Julian poems only came to light in the late 1970s, but the full collection shows how preoccupied the poet was with Julian, who was raised a Christian and became a pagan. However, Cavafy shared none of the late romantic admiration for the last of the pagan emperors. Instead, he was obsessed with removing the glamour and exposing the fraud of this hero of latter-day pagans.

This seems to be a paradox in a Greek poet who was among the first in modern times to write outstanding poetry on sensuality and sexual encounters. GW Bowersock, in his paper ‘The Julian Poems of CP Cavafy’ (Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 7, 1981), suggests Cavafy found that his researches into the Early Church spoke to some degree to his own personal needs, and found greatest in the 1890s in the solitary struggles of the Early Fathers.

Cavafy’s experience of Christianity was complicated by his feelings of guilt and distress over his sexual orientation, which he tried to confront alone, writing a series of private confessions in which he tried to reconcile his sexuality and his Christianity.

This morning’s poem, ‘O Iουλιανός εν τοις Mυστηρίοις,’ was written in November 1896 and was published posthumously. The story of Julian making the sign of the cross when he encountered demons in an underground cavern was first recounted by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, whose original text was familiar to Cavafy. The cross became a recurrent motif in Cavafy’s Julian poems.

The infant Julian and his half-brother Gallus were saved during the massacre of their family after the death of Constantine the Great. Later, when he became emperor, Julian abandoned Christianity and tried to establish a new pagan religion underpinned by Neo-Platonist principles.

All of the twelve Julian poems, in one way or another, address Julian’s encounter with Christianity. Cavafy sees Julian as a figure marked by hypocrisy and a pagan, puritanical intolerance, an ascetic who demanded strict adherence to the principles of his new pagan church.

This morning’s poem, ‘O Iουλιανός εν τοις Mυστηρίοις,’ had first been given the title ‘O Iουλιανός εν Eλευσίνι.’ It has seems the initial title was inspired by Gibbon’s inference from Saint Gregory of Nazianzus that Julian was at Eleusis: “He [Julian] obtained the privilege of a solemn initiation into the mysteries of Eleusis ...” However, there is no evidence to suppose that Julian was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, and so Cavafy gave a new title to his old poem.

The satirical account of Julian’s fright at the mysteries and the potent sign of the cross which Julian made by reflex was written in November 1896, when Cavafy was critically reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. At the same time, Cavafy had a particular concern with the Early Church, and the story of Julian making the sign of the cross when he encounters demons in an underground cavern is told by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus.

This morning’s poem, in the week before Holy Week, reminds us of the power of the sign of the cross, even for those whose faith is weak or who have rejected the message of Christ.

CP Cavafy, by David Hockney

Ο Iουλιανός εν τοις Mυστηρίοις,, Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης

Πλην σαν ευρέθηκε μέσα στο σκότος,
μέσα στης γης τα φοβερά τα βάθη,
συντροφευμένος μ’ Έλληνας αθέους,
κ’ είδε με δόξες και μεγάλα φώτα
να βγαίνουν άυλες μορφές εμπρός του,
φοβήθηκε για μια στιγμήν ο νέος,
κ’ ένα ένστικτον των ευσεβών του χρόνων
επέστρεψε, κ’ έκαμε τον σταυρό του.
Aμέσως οι Μορφές αφανισθήκαν•
οι δόξες χάθηκαν — σβήσαν τα φώτα.
Οι Έλληνες εκρυφοκοιταχθήκαν.
Κι ο νέος είπεν• «Είδατε το θαύμα;
Aγαπητοί μου σύντροφοι, φοβούμαι.
Φοβούμαι, φίλοι μου, θέλω να φύγω.
Δεν βλέπετε πώς χάθηκαν αμέσως
οι δαίμονες σαν μ’ είδανε να κάνω
το σχήμα του σταυρού το αγιασμένο;»
Οι Έλληνες εκάγχασαν μεγάλα•
«Ντροπή, ντροπή να λες αυτά τα λόγια
σε μας τους σοφιστάς και φιλοσόφους.
Τέτοια σαν θες, εις τον Νικομηδείας
και στους παπάδες του μπορείς να λες.
Της ένδοξης Ελλάδος μας εμπρός σου
οι μεγαλύτεροι θεοί φανήκαν.
Κι αν φύγανε, να μη νομίζεις διόλου
που φοβηθήκαν μια χειρονομία.
Μονάχα σαν σε είδανε να κάνεις
το ποταπότατον, αγροίκον σχήμα
σιχάθηκεν η ευγενής των φύσις,
και φύγανε και σε περιφρονήσαν».
Έτσι τον είπανε, κι από τον φόβο
τον ιερόν και τον ευλογημένον
συνήλθεν ο ανόητος, κ’ επείσθη
με των Ελλήνων τ’ άθεα τα λόγια.

(Από τα Κρυμμένα Ποιήματα 1877;-1923, Ίκαρος 1993.)

Julian at the Mysteries, by CP Cavafy

But when he found himself in darkness,
in the earth’s dreadful depths,
accompanied by unholy Greeks,
and bodiless figures appeared before him
with haloes and bright lights,
the young Julian momentarily lost his nerve:
an impulse from his pious years came back
and he crossed himself.
The Figures vanished at once;
the haloes faded away, the lights went out.
The Greeks exchanged glances.
The young man said: “Did you see the miracle?
Dear companions, I’m frightened.
I’m frightened, friends. I want to leave.
Didn’t you see how the demons vanished
the second they saw me make
the holy sign of the cross?”
The Greeks chuckled scornfully:
“Shame on you, shame, to talk that way
to us sophists and philosophers!
If you want to say things like that,
say them to the Bishop of Nicomedia
and his priests.
The greatest gods of our glorious Greece
appeared before you.
And if they left, don’t think for a minute
that they were frightened by a gesture.
It was just that when they saw you
making that vile, that crude sign,
their noble nature was disgusted
and they left you in contempt.”
This is what they said to him,
and the fool recovered from
his holy, blessed fear, convinced
by the unholy words of the Greeks.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard in CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, edited by George Savidis (revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Accepting the invitation to the banquet

Banqueting at the end-of-term dinner organised by the Durrell School of Corfu ... we are all invited to the heavenly banquet, but are we ready to accept the invitation? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford


The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for Easter Day offer a number of alternatives at each point:

1, Acts 10: 34-43 or Isaiah 25: 6-9;
2, Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; or the Easter Anthems;
3, I Corinthians 15: 1-11, or Acts 10: 34-43;
4, John 20: 1-18 or Mark 16: 1-8.

Although this is not mentioned in the Church of Ireland Directory 2012, the RCL states that “Acts 10: 34-43” should be read as either the First or Second Reading” (Revised Common Lectionary, Pew Edition, London: Mowbray, 1997, p. 482.).

This makes it highly unlikely that the Old Testament reading (Isaiah 25: 6-9) is going to be heard in many Church of Ireland parishes on Easter morning, and it is even less likely that anyone is going to preach on this reading on Easter morning.

Nevertheless, this is the reading we are looking at in our Bible study in this morning’s tutorial group.

Ησαϊασ 25: 6-9

6 καὶ ποιήσει Κύριος σαβαὼθ πᾶσι τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ἐπὶ τὸ ὄρος τοῦτο. πίονται εὐφροσύνην, πίονται οἶνον,
7 χρίσονται μύρον. ἐν τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ παράδος ταῦτα πάντα τοῖς ἔθνεσιν· ἡ γὰρ βουλὴ αὕτη ἐπὶ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη.
8 κατέπιεν ὁ θάνατος ἰσχύσας, καὶ πάλιν ἀφεῖλε Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς πᾶν δάκρυον ἀπὸ παντὸς προσώπου· τὸ ὄνειδος τοῦ λαοῦ ἀφεῖλεν ἀπὸ πάσης τῆς γῆς, τὸ γὰρ στόμα Κυρίου ἐλάλησε.
9 καὶ ἐροῦσι τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ· ἰδοὺ ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν ἐφ᾿ ᾧ ἠλπίζομεν καὶ ἠγαλλιώμεθα, καὶ σώσει ἡμᾶς. οὗτος Κύριος, ὑπεμείναμεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀγαλλιασόμεθα καὶ ἐφρανθησόμεθα ἐπὶ τῇ σωτηρίᾳ ἡμῶν,

Isaiah 25: 6-9

6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

An Orthodox icon of the Mystical Supper

Looking at the text:

Isaiah 24-27 is frequently called the “Isaiah Apocalypse” because of the recurrence of eschatological themes found in later apocalyptical writings, including universal judgment, the eschatological banquet and heavenly signs.

This section is a transitional form between traditional prophetic and apocalyptical materials, dating between 540 BC and 425 BC. These chapters contain a variety of types of material, including:

1, Four eschatological prophecies: 24: 1-6; 24: 16b-23; 25: 6-10a; 26: 20 to 27: 1.
2, Four apocalyptic poems of deliverance: 24: 7-16a; 25: 1-5; 26: 1-6; 27: 2-11.
3, Oracles of doom and triumph: 26: 20-27; 27: 12-13; compare 25: 10b-12.
4, A processional psalm (25: 1-6), and an apocalyptic psalm (27: 2-11).

In the chapter before the one we are reading from this morning(Isaiah 24: 21-23), we read that “on that day,” at the end of time, God shall punish rebellious heavenly beings and the “kings of the earth,” after imprisoning them for a long time. “The Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and ... he will manifest his glory.” Isaiah speaks of the time when the age will end.

In this passage, which is the third eschatological section, Isaiah tells of the divine banquet.

Verse 6:

This banquet on “this mountain” (Mount Zion, see Revelation 14: 1) is going to include eating and drinking, not just food and wine, but “rich food filled with marrow” and “well-matured wines strained clear.”

This is the Banquet of Messiah. At this banquet, we find that God’s generosity to us is not poured out in small measures or short measures. And when God comes to dine with us, “fast food” is not on the menu.

Verse 7:

This time, which is hosted by God, is a time “for all peoples,” a time to celebrate God’s victory over death, which lasts for ever – an important idea, that makes this an appropriate reading on Easter morning.

God “will destroy ... the shroud” of mourning that is cast over all peoples the “sheet” and of ignorance that is spread over all nations.

Death will no longer be the end. And our Gospel reading this morning tells us how this achieved.

Verse 8:

This celestial banquet is a symbol of eternal happiness, of the coming of the Kingdom of God. God will destroy the power of death, “the disgrace of his people” for ever.

Verse 9:

The salvation that all have been waiting for, across all the ages, will be visible “on that day.”

In our Easter faith, we identify “the Lord for whom we have waited” with the Risen Christ. “Let us be glad and rejoice” (c.f. Psalm 118: 24).

Some comments and reflections:

The “Road to Emmaus” Icon by Sister Marie Paul OSB of the Mount of Olives Monastery, Jerusalem (1990), commissioned by the Canadian theologian Father Thomas Rosica

The resurrection accounts in the Gospel present a number of meals the Risen Christ shares with the disciples:

1, The Risen Christ appears to the disciples as they are eating (Mark 16: 14).
2, The Risen Christ shares the evening meal at Emmaus (Luke 24: 36-43).
3, The Risen Christ prepares breakfast for the disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (John 21: 1-14).

In this reading from the Book of Isaiah, the prophet is looking forward to the Day of the Lord when God’s purposes will be fulfilled. In images later picked up in the Book of Revelation to describe the culmination of history, Isaiah looks forward to the day when death will be swallowed up for ever and when “the Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.”

This picture of the final establishment of God’s will, the coming of God’s Kingdom that we long for, is couched in terms of a banquet, “On this mountain, the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines” (Isaiah 25: 6).

This depiction of heaven in terms of a banquet is picked up regularly by Christ in his teaching. A well-known example is the parable of the Great Banquet, in which a man prepares a great feast and invites many guests. When some of these guests make excuses, then the invitation is extended to all and sundry (Luke 14: 15-24). That parable conveys the message that not just the original guests (the Israelites) are invited to the Banquet, but now all people (the Gentiles) are invited to share in this banquet.

Later in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus looks forward to the heavenly banquet as he confronts his own death when he says to the disciples at the Last Supper: “I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22: 18).

The Eucharist is the anticipation of this heavenly banquet that awaits us all. This vision of the banquet table at the end of time is one of the most beautiful, hopeful visions of the future in the Bible. The great banquet is part of the Messianic expectation (see Luke 14: 15-24; Revelation 19: 5-9), so that Christ frequently uses the image of a wedding banquet or feast (Matthew 22: 1-14; Matthew 25: 1-13; Luke 14: 15-24).

How great and wonderful it is to be invited to this special meal. Everyone is there – old friends, family, past, present and future generations are all seated together.

But Isaiah also has a second account of the banquet in Isaiah 65: 11-15, where those who are called do not answer, those who are spoken to do not listen, those who are chosen do evil. These people go hungry while the servants eat, go thirsty while the servants drink, are put to shame while the servants rejoice, cry out with heart-felt pain and wail while the servant sing with glad hearts,

Isaiah sees two groups of people in this second account of the great end-time banquet: one group of people sitting at the table of rich food; the other a group of people who were once in a fortified palace, but who were ruthless and whose city is a heap of ruins.

Earlier in Isaiah 25, God puts an end to their ruthlessness so that he could host his banquet. Who are the ones that need to take shelter from these ruthless people? Specifically Isaiah says, you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress (Isaiah 25: 4).

The poor and the needy are always the targets of the ruthless, but God will reverse their plight. Isaiah says the great banquet at the end of time will be “for all peoples” (verse 6), and not just the elite few.

Isaiah says that the city of the ruthless is to become a heap and a ruin (verse 2). The city of the people who think they are too good to accept the invitation to the banquet is sacked.

Christ’s whole life on earth involved extending the invitation to the banquet to those others refused to dine with: the lame, the blind, people with leprosy, people with demons women, children, the hungry, the needy, tax collectors, former prostitutes, soldiers, Romans, Samaritan women, Syro-Phoenician women, penitent thieves and Pharisees too.

And these are the people we are invited to dine with on Easter morning. The only way I can lose my place at that table is by thinking I am better than anyone else he has invited to the banquet.

God’s love knows no bounds. The God we love is also the God who loves the people that are not quite like us. The Lord who loves us and invites us to his banquet requires us to extend that invitation.

An icon of the Mystical Supper by the Orthodox priest, Father Luke (Rolland) Dingman, of Brookdale, California

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. These notes were prepared for a Bible study with a tutorial group of MTh students on 28 March 2012.

Poems for Lent (33): ‘Affliction’ by George Herbert

‘My thoughts are all a case of knives, / Wounding my heart / With scattered smart …’ George Herbert’s consoling words recall a night of nightmares and prayers that turned to a beautiful day at High Leigh in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

For my Poem for Lent this morning, I have chosen another poem by the poet-priest George Herbert, ‘Affliction.’

George Herbert wrote five ‘Affliction’ poems. This is the fourth ‘Affliction’ poem and sometimes headed ‘Temptation.’ This is a poem of spiritual conflict and healing.

In the privacy of our own hearts and minds, on the most intimate level, we all deal with affliction, pain, criticism, loneliness, regret and fear.

I was reminded of this poem as I recalled a restless and sleepless night last year while I was at a conference in High Leigh, near Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire. I had been travelling since early morning, and had a busy working morning in Cambridge, before going on the conference that afternoon. and late at night realised I had forgotten to take my medication, prescribed for my sarcoidosis, with breakfast that morning. Anyone who has been prescribed steroids knows the dangers of taking them too late and night, and the fears and dreams that can come to the fore in our dreams.

I woke constantly, and was disturbed continually. But I was comforted throughout that night by the truth of the words of Compline we had prayed collectively that night before I went to bed:

Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That you, with steadfast love, would keep
Your watch around us while we sleep.

From evil dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Tread underfoot our deadly foe,
That we no sinful thought may know.

O Father, that we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son;
And Holy Spirit, by whose breath
Our souls are raised to life from death

(Common Worship, p. 82)

I awoke to a very pleasant morning and a fresh new day in the Hertfordshire countryside.

In this morning’s poem, George Herbert gives voice to interior pain, to thoughts that are out of control, to helplessness in the face of anxiety. But in his honesty, we can see a way forward to hope.

However, he does not mention any external event at the root of his affliction. His entire focus is on the experience of suffering on the spiritual, mental and emotional level.

He reminds us that we are not in total control of our thoughts, and not all thoughts are good, true or helpful. He asks God to “dissolve the knot” of his fears and emotions, because he cannot do it for himself. Into the unruly conflict of his own mind, he invites God’s presence, because God’s light will “scatter” all the “rebellions of the night.”

Herbert concludes that life’s difficult journey, “day by day,” has God alone as its goal. If our thoughts can wound us, then God alone can heal us. God can subdue and calm our painful and rebellious thoughts, and he is the source of all Light.

Affliction, by George Herbert

Broken in pieces all asunder,
Lord, hunt me not,
A thing forgot,
Once a poor creature, now a wonder,
A wonder tortured in the space
Betwixt this world and that of grace.

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
Wounding my heart
With scattered smart;
As wat’ring-pots give flowers their lives.
Nothing their fury can control,
While they do wound and prick my soul.

All my attendants are at strife
Quitting their place
Unto my face:
Nothing performs the task of life:
The elements are let loose to fight,
And while I live, try out their right.

Oh help, my God! let not their plot
Kill them and me,
And also Thee,
Who art my life: dissolve the knot,
As the sun scatters by his light
All the rebellions of the night.

Then shall those powers which work for grief,
Enter Thy pay,
And day by day
Labour Thy praise and my relief:
With care and courage building me,
Till I reach heav’n, and much more, Thee.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Christianity and Islam: Getting to know our Muslim neighbours in Ireland today

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland and the mosque in Clonskeagh, Dublin

Patrick Comerford

The context

An understanding of the beliefs, traditions and culture of people of other faiths is important in Ireland today and can deepen and enrich our own faith and spirituality too. But, if we are going to understand people of other faiths and beliefs, we must try to understand them on their own terms, and allow them to define themselves, and to be honest and open about our own beliefs too, so that we meet them as they truly are and they meet us as we truly are.

One of the noticeable changes in the Irish population in recent decades is the sizeable presence of Muslims. There are, perhaps, up to 40,000 Muslims in Ireland today. In this changing Ireland, Muslims are increasingly visible and playing a role, and a changing world which, since 9/11, needs to know how to deal with our fears about terrorism, our vulnerability, our prejudices (in the sense of pre-judging) about Muslims and Islam, and a legacy that has left many unresolved questions.

Muslim children are now attending our Church of Ireland schools. In the coming decades, the possibility of intermarriage is going to increase. There are many dilemmas too surrounding interfaith public occasions.

Can we can learn from others, including Muslims, in ways that will deepen our own faith and our practice of it?

Muslims in Ireland today

Despite popular perceptions, the majority of Muslims in Ireland probably are not foreigners. Consider the number of Irish women who have become Muslims through marriage, and the number of Muslim children born in Ireland.

Historically, the first Irish contacts with the Islamic world predate the Anglo-Norman invasion, and the first constant contacts are found from the 17th century on. In the 18th and 19th centuries, baptisms in Church of Ireland parish records in the Diocese of Raphoe and Roman Catholic parish records in the Diocese of Ferns point to a Muslim presence from Co Donegal to Co Wexford at that time.

Indeed, in the late 18th century, one Muslim was an active member of the Volunteers – giving an added dimension to ideal of uniting an Ireland of Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters.

In the 19th century, there was still an air of exotic excitement surrounding Muslims in Ireland. But their presence has grown here especially since the mid-1950s, with the arrival of a new wave of Muslims as medical students.

The history of the arrival and the make-up of Muslims in every European country is different: in France, Muslims are mainly of North African descent; in Germany, they are mainly Turkish in origin, while in Britain, their origins, by-and-large, are in the Indian subcontinent.

But these images hinder our acceptance of Muslims as being truly European. There are many Muslims who are truly European in every sense, including the Muslims of Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania. We forget often that Spain was a Muslim-ruled country for longer than it has been a Christian-ruled country, while Istanbul or Constantinople was seen as the greatest city in Christendom for much longer than it has been seen as a Muslim city.

In Ireland, Muslims come from a very mixed and diverse background. A large number are Irish-born, and they see themselves as Irish.

Patrick Comerford (right) with Dr Ali Selim (left) and Archbishop John Neill of Dublin during a visit to the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland

So let me ask some questions:

How many of you know a Muslim?

How many of you have visited a Muslim country?

How many of you have visited a mosque?

Yet, how many of us encounter fear and suspicion in our parishes and in our neighbourhoods, in our schools and at work?.

Some of this fear and suspicion in founded in reality. Yes, there is a threat from al-Qaida. But it is a greater threat to security in the Muslim world, as has been shown by recent violence, killings and bombings in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan or Turkey.

Statistically more Muslims are killed by Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan each week than Christians are killed by Muslims in Britain or the US, or Jews killed in France each week – horrific and condemnable as those killings are too.

Muslims can often fear each other more than we fear them. Many mainstream Muslims fear the rigorous approach to Islam among the Wahhabis, who are supported and nurtured in Saudi Arabia, and Sunni and Shia Muslims fear each other in Iraq and Pakistan.

Last week’s shootings in Toulouse, the continuing crises in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ‘Arab Spring’ throughout North Africa and the Middle East, as well as recent attacks in London, Madrid, Turkish holiday resorts – all of these have left people realising not only how vulnerable we are today as the people of New York and Washington were over ten years ago on 11 September 2001, but also aware that are lives are intertwined with the lives of the Islamic world, and we cannot escape that.

Americans fear a backlash following the murder of children by a US soldier in Afghanistan earlier this month, against Muslims in the US following Thursday’s killings in Fort Hood in Texas. But Muslims in France are living in fear after the recent killings in Toulouse, and after the fears that have been stoked up in the presidential election campaign by President Sarkozy.

Yet much of the fear – as with all fear – is irrational, and is not based on knowledge, experience or reality.

Today, 1-in-5 people in the world is a Muslim. The majority of Muslims are not Arabs, and only 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries. There are large communities of Muslims in the Balkans and Russia. The world’s largest Muslim country is Indonesia, and there are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are Indonesia, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, with more than 100 million Muslims each. There are 20 million Muslims in China.

The two Middle East countries with the largest Muslim populations are two non-Arab countries, Turkey and Iran. On the other hand, a large minority of Arabs are Christians, and there are even Arab Jews.

Yet, much of the fear of Muslims in the world today is based not on their religious beliefs, but finds expressions that are similar to racism. We objectify them, make them “others” who are not part of “us,” and outsiders who bring nothing as gifts to us, but instead bring threats.

We need to see other-ness as a gift rather than a threat. And criticism and reaction, when we offer it, need not always be negative, but certainly need to be based on knowledge and experience.

What is Islam?

Islam (Arabic: الإسلام; al-'islām) is a monotheistic Abrahamic religion originating with the teachings of Muhammad (ca 570-632), a 7th century Arab religious and political leader. The word Islam means “submission” or the total surrender of oneself to God (Arabic: الله, Allāh). And so an adherent of Islam is a Muslim, or “one who submits (to God).” With 1.1 billion to 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity.

Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad. They see him as God’s final prophet, and the regard the Qur'an and the Sunnah (words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam. They do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but believe he restored the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets.

Muslims are generally expected to observe the Five Pillars of Islam or the five duties that unite Muslims. In addition, Islamic law (sharia) has developed a tradition of rulings that relate to virtually all aspects of life and society, from dietary laws and banking to warfare.

The word Islam means acceptance of and submission or surrender to God. Muslims demonstrate this submission by worshipping God, following his commands, and avoiding polytheism. Islam is often described as an action of returning to God – more than just a verbal affirmation of faith.

The minaret of a mosque in a small Turkish village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

What do Muslims believe?

According to the Qur'an all Muslims must believe in God, his revelations, his angels, his messengers, and in the Day of Judgment. There are other beliefs that are particular to different schools of Islam. For example, the Sunni concept of predestination is called divine decree, while the Shi'a version is called divine justice. Shi'a Muslims hold a unique understanding of Imamah or the political and spiritual leadership of the Imams.

Muslims believe that God revealed his final message to humanity through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad over a period of two decades or more in the years 610 to 632. The Qur'an mentions numerous figures considered as prophets in Islam, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The Qur'an names Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitāb), and distinguishes them from polytheists, although Muslims believe that parts of the previously revealed scriptures, the Tawrat (Torah) and the Injil (Gospels), had become distorted – either in misinterpretation of the text, or in altering text, or both.

The fundamental theological concept of Islam is tawhīd – the belief that there is only one God. The Arabic term for God is Allāh; most scholars believe it was derived from a contraction of the words al- (the) and 'ilāh (deity, masculine form), meaning “the God” (al-ilāh), but others trace its origin to the Aramaic Alāhā. Tawhīd, the first of the Five Pillars of Islam, is expressed in the shahadah (testifying), which in which every believing Muslim declares that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is God’s messenger or prophet.

For Muslims, God is beyond all comprehension. They are not expected to visualise God, but to worship and adore him as the protector. Muslims will say that God is as close to us, to you, as the vein in your neck.

Muslims consider the Qur'an to be the literal word of God. The Qur'an is divided into 114 suras, or chapters. The chronologically earlier suras, dating to Mecca, are primarily concerned with ethical and spiritual topics. The later suras from Medina are concerned mostly with social and moral issues in the Muslim community. The Qur'an is more concerned with moral guidance than legal instruction, and is considered the “sourcebook of Islamic principles and values.”

In Islam, the “normative” example of Muhammad’s life is called the Sunnah (“trodden path”). This example is preserved in traditions known as hadith (“reports”), which recount his words, his actions, and his personal characteristics. The Sunnah is seen as crucial to guiding interpretation of the Qur'an and Muslim jurists see the hadith, or the written record of Muhammad’s life, as supplementing the Qur'an and assisting in its interpretation. Muslims are encouraged to emulate Muhammad’s actions in their daily lives.

Muslims regard their belief in angels as crucial to their faith. Their duties include communicating revelations from God, glorifying God, recording every person’s actions, and taking a person’s soul at the time of death.

Muslims believe in the “Day of Resurrection,” yawm al-Qiyāmah (also known as yawm ad-dīn, “Day of Judgment” and as-sā`a, “the Last Hour”) that its time is preordained by God although unknown to humanity. The Qur'an emphasises bodily resurrection, and says the resurrection of dead will be followed by the gathering of humanity, culminating in judgment by God.

The Qur'an lists several sins that can condemn a person to hell, including disbelief, usury and dishonesty. Paradise (jannah) is seen as a place of joy and bliss, with mystical traditions in Islam placing the heavenly delights in the context of an ecstatic awareness of God.

Muslims believe in predestination, or divine preordaining (al-qadā wa'l-qadar), so that God has full knowledge and control over all that happens. For Muslims, everything in the world that happens, good or evil, has been preordained and nothing can happen unless permitted by God. However, while events are pre-ordained, we have freewill in that we have the faculty to choose between right and wrong, and so are responsible for our actions.

The Five Pillars of Islam

The richly decorated interior of a mosque in Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Five Pillars of Islam (Arabic: اركان الدين) are five practices essential to Sunni Islam. Shi'a Muslims talk about eight ritual practices which substantially overlap with the Five Pillars. These are:

1, The shahadah, which is the basic creed or tenet of Islam: 'ašhadu 'al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa 'ašhadu 'anna Muħammadan rasūlu-llāh, or “I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” This declaration of faith is the foundation for all other beliefs and practices in Islam. (Shi'a Muslims consider the shahadah to be belief and do not regard it as a separate pillar, just a belief.) Muslims repeat the shahadah in prayer, and non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam are required to recite this creed.

2, Salah, or ritual prayer, must be performed five times a day. However, Shi'a Muslims often run together the noon prayers with the afternoon prayers, and the evening prayers with the night prayers. Each salah is done facing towards Mecca. Salah is intended to focus the mind on God, and is seen as a personal communication with him that expresses gratitude and worship. In many Muslim countries, reminders called adhan (call to prayer) are broadcast publicly from local mosques at the appropriate times. The prayers are recited in Arabic, and consist of verses from the Qur'an.

3, Zakat, or almsgiving, is based on accumulated wealth, and is obligatory for all Muslims who can afford it. A fixed portion is spent to help the poor or needy, and also to assist the spread of Islam. The zakat is considered a religious obligation (as opposed to voluntary charity) that the well-off owe to the needy because their wealth is seen as a “trust from God’s bounty.” The Qur'an and the hadith also suggest a Muslim give even more as an act of voluntary almsgiving (sadaqah). Many Shi'a Muslims are expected to pay an additional amount in the form of a khums tax, which they regard as a separate ritual practice.

4, Sawm, or fasting during the month of Ramadan, requires Muslims not to eat or drink from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, when they should contemplate their sins. The fast is to encourage a feeling of nearness to God. During Ramadan, Muslims should express their gratitude to God and their dependence on him, atone for their past sins, and think of the needy.

5, The Hajj is the pilgrimage during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah to Mecca. All able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must undertake the hajj at least once in their lifetime. Islamic teachers say that the hajj should be an expression of devotion to God instead of a means to gain social standing, although the pilgrim or hajji is honoured in his or her community on returning home.

In addition to the khums tax, Shi'a Muslims consider three additional practices essential to the religion of Islam. These are:

1, Jihad, which Sunni Muslims do not consider a pillar of Islam.

2, Amr-Bil-Ma'rūf, the “enjoining to do good,” which calls on every Muslim to live a virtuous life and to encourage others to do the same.

3, Nahi-Anil-Munkar, the “exhortation to desist from evil,” enjoins Muslims to refrain from vice and from evil actions and to encourage others to do the same.

Some questions

The concise expressions of faith in these five pillars offer an interesting challenge to Christians.

1, Can we express our faith in coherent yet concise phrases? Are we confident about making public declarations of faith?

2, Is our daily routine punctuated by rhythm of prayer? Are we embarrassed by postures of prayer that express public submission to God?

3, As a Church and as Christians, is our giving to charity, mission, or development work limited to mere duty, or do we go beyond that? Is it an essential part of Christian life and discipleship?

4, Have we lost the spiritual values of fasting and preparation associated with Lent and Advent?

5, Do we see our lives as pilgrimages, that “this land is not my home, I am only travelling through?” How do you respond to ideas such as pilgrimage and retreat?

Islamic Law or Sharia

The minarets of al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Islamic law covers all aspects of life, from matters of state, like governance and foreign relations, to issues of daily living. There are the punishments for five specific crimes: unlawful intercourse, false accusation of unlawful intercourse, consumption of alcohol, theft, and highway robbery. There are laws of inheritance, marriage, and restitution for injuries and murder, and rules for fasting, charity, and prayer.

Islamic law has four fundamental roots, which are given precedence in this order: the Qur'an, the Sunnah (actions and sayings of Muhammad), the consensus of the Muslim jurists (ijma), and analogical reasoning (qiyas).

Islamic law does not distinguish between matters of “church” and “state.” The ulema function as both jurists and theologians. But as the Muslim world came into contact with Western secular ideals, Muslim societies responded in different ways. Turkey has been a secular state since the reforms of Atatürk, while the Iranian Revolution in 1979 replaced a mainly secular regime with an Islamic state under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Many practices fall into the category of adab or Islamic etiquette, including greeting each other with as-salamu `alaykum (“peace be unto you”), saying bismillah (“in the name of God”) before meals, and using only the right hand for eating and drinking. Islamic hygienic practices mainly fall into the category of personal cleanliness and health, such as the circumcision of male offspring.

Muslims, like Jews, are restricted in their diet, and prohibited foods include pig products, blood, carrion, and alcohol. All meat must come from herbivorous animals slaughtered in the name of God by a Muslim, Jew, or Christian. Muslims may also eat game they have hunted or fished for themselves. Food that Muslims may eat is known as halal food.

Islamic scholars disagree whether the texts justify traditional Islamic practices such as veiling and seclusion (purdah).

What is Jihad?

Jihad means “to strive or struggle” in the way of God and a small number of Muslim scholars regard it as the “sixth pillar of Islam.” Jihad, in its broadest sense, is “exerting one’s utmost power, efforts, endeavours, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation.” This may be a visible enemy, the devil, or some aspects of one’s own self. But jihad also describes striving to attain religious and moral perfection.

Jihad usually means military exertion against non-Muslim combatants in the defence or expansion of the Islamic state, the ultimate purpose of which is to universalise Islam. Jihad, the only form of warfare permissible in Islamic law, may be declared against apostates, rebels, highway robbers, violent groups, non-Islamic leaders or states that refuse to submit to the authority of Islam. Most Muslims understand jihad as only a defensive form of warfare.

For most Muslims, jihad is a collective duty: its performance by some individuals exempts the others. For most Shia Muslims, offensive jihad can only be declared by a divinely appointed leader of the Islamic community.

One of the leaders of “neo-Sufism” in modern Turkey, Said Nursi, argued that “the time of the ‘jihad of the sword’” is over, and that now is the era of the “jihad of the word,” meaning a reasoned attempt to propose Islam as a basis for a reconciliation of science and modern institutions with religious faith and morality. As early as 1911, Nursi argued that Muslims and “pious Christians” should make common cause in defending a moral and spiritual vision of human life against the momentary illusions of consumer culture.

The divisions of Islam

Islam consists of a number of religious denominations that are essentially similar in belief but with significant theological and legal differences. The primary division is between the Sunni and the Shi'a, with Sufism generally considered a mystical inflection of Islam rather than a distinct school. About 85 per cent of Muslims are Sunni and about 15 per cent are Shi'a.

Sunnis recognise four major legal traditions, or madhhabs: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali. All four accept the validity of the others and a Muslim might choose any one that he/she finds agreeable. There are also several orthodox theological or philosophical traditions within Sunnism. For example, the recent Salafi movement sees itself as restorationist and claims to derive its teachings from the original sources of Islam.

Within 18th century Sunni Islam, the Wahhabi movement took hold in what is now Saudi Arabia today. Wahhabism was founded by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and is a fundamentalist ideology that condemns practices like Sufism and the veneration of saints as un-Islamic.

The 20th century saw the formation of many new Islamic “revivalist” movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. They see Western cultural values as a threat to Islam, and promote Islam as a comprehensive solution to every public and private question of importance. They inspired later movements such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.

Shi'a Muslims believe in the political and religious leadership of infallible Imams from the descendants of Ali ibn Abi Talib. They say that Ali, as the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was his rightful successor. The Shi'a follow a legal tradition called Ja'fari jurisprudence.

Shi'a Islam has several branches, the largest of which is the Twelvers (itnā'ašariyya), while the others are the Ismaili, the Seveners, and the Zaidiyyah.

Muslim mystics and Sufism

Many Westerners have been introduced to Islamic spirituality through contact with or reading about Sufism. Sufism has been described as “the pursuit of spiritual experience by bodily discipline and mystical intuition” (HAR Gibb). Professor Victor Danner, in The Islamic Tradition (1988), says: “Sufism has influenced the spiritual life of the [Islamic] religion to an extraordinary degree; there is no important domain in the civilisation of Islam that has remained unaffected by it.”

While the Muslim-Arab elite engaged in conquest, some devout Muslims began to question the piety of indulgence in a worldly life, emphasising rather poverty, humility and avoidance of sin based on renunciation of bodily desires. Devout Muslim ascetic exemplars such as Hasan al-Basri inspired a movement that evolved into Sufism.

Both Sufism and Shi'ism underwent major changes in the 9th century, so that Sufism became a full-fledged movement that had moved towards mysticism and away from its ascetic roots, while Shi'ism splintered into different groups, due to disagreements over the succession of Imams, many of them developing their own emphasis on mysticism.

Beginning in the 13th century, Sufism underwent a transformation, largely due to the efforts of al-Ghazzali to legitimise and reorganise Sufism. He developed the model of the Sufi order – a community of spiritual teachers and students.

Another important development for Sufism was the editing of the Masnavi, a collection of mystical poetry by the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. The Masnavi had a profound influence on the development of Sufi religious thought, and for many Sufis it is second in importance only to the Qur'an.

Sufism (Arabic: تصوف‎ - taṣawwuf, Turkish: tasavvuf, Persian: صوفیگری, sufigari) is not a denomination within Islam. Instead, it is understood as the mystical-ascetic dimension of Islam. By focusing on the more spiritual aspects of religion, Sufis strive to obtain direct experience of God by making use of “intuitive and emotional faculties” that one must be trained to use. Most Sufi orders or brotherhoods are known as tariqas. They may be associated with Sunni Islam or Shia Islam, although the major ones, such as the Qadiri and Naqshbandi orders, are associated with traditional Sunni Islam.

The word Sufi is said to originate from the Arabic صوف‎ (sūf), the Arabic word for wool, referring to the simple cloaks the early Muslim ascetics wore. Others say the root word of Sufi is the Arabic صفا (safā), meaning purity, referring to the Sufi emphasis on purity of heart and soul.

Others suggest the origin is from Ašhab as-Sufā (“Companions of the Porch”) or Ahl as-Sufā (“People of the Porch”) – a group of devout Muslims who spent much of their time on the veranda of Mohammad’s mosque, devoted to prayer. However, the 10th century Persian historian Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī linked the word sūfīya with the Greek word Sophia (wisdom, especially divine wisdom).

A practitioner of Sufism is generally known as a Sufi (Arabic: صُوفِيّ‎), although some senior members of the tradition reserve this term for those who have attained the goals of the Sufi tradition. Another common name is the word Dervish (derived from Persian: درویش , darwīš).

Sufis believe that it is possible to become close to God and to experience this closeness while one is alive. The chief aim of all Sufis is to let go of all notions of duality, including any concept of an individual self, and to realise the Divine unity.

Sufis teachers make extensive use of parable, allegory, and metaphor, and it is held by Sufis that meaning can only be reached through a process of seeking the truth, and knowledge of oneself. Sufism as a whole is primarily concerned with direct personal experience.

Junayd al-Baghdadi was among the first theorists of Sufism. He concerned himself with fanā and baqā, the state of annihilating the self in the presence of the divine, accompanied by clarity concerning worldly phenomena derived from the altitude of that perspective.

A significant part of oriental literature comes from the Sufis, who created books of poetry containing the teachings of the Sufis. Some of the more notable examples of this poetry are Attar’s Conference of the Birds and Rumi’s Mathnawi. Rumi, or Mevlana Celaleddin-i-Rumi (Jalal-e-Din Rūmī, 1207-1273) was a universal mystic and a devout Muslim. His way of Sufism teaches unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love.

Sufi mystical poetry

Rumi, a universal mystic and a devout Muslim ... his way of Sufism teaches unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love

Rumi (1207-1273) was a Sufi mystic who founded the Mevlevi order, known as the Whirling Dervishes. His masterpiece, the six-volume Mathnawi, dates from 1248 on, and was first written in Persian, and includes parables, ecstatic love odes, jokes and practical advice on meditation. In recent years, he has received new popularity in the west.

One of his poems that I love best is “The Mouse and the Frog,” from which I quote:

A mouse and a frog met every morning
on the riverbank.
They sit in a nook of the ground and talk.
Each morning, the second they see each other,
they open easily, telling stories and dreams and secrets,
empty of any fear or suspicious holding-back.
To watch and listen to those two
is to understand how, as it’s written,
sometimes when two beings come together,
Christ becomes visible.

Or another poem from Rumi:

A soul not clothed with Love
brings shame on its existence.
Be drunk on Love,
for Love is all that exists.
They ask, ‘What is Love?’
Say, ‘Renouncing your will.’
He who has not renounced will
has no will at all.
The lover is a mighty king,
standing above the two worlds.
A king does not look
at what is beneath him.
Only Love and lovers
have eternal life.
Set your hearts on this alone;
the rest is merely borrowed.

(Divani-I Shamsi-I Tabrizi 455: A1:54, translation John Daldock).

Sufi whirling or spinning, a twirling meditation that originated among the Turkish Sufis, it is still practiced by the Dervishes of the Mevlevi order

Two other examples are provided by Rabi’ah al-’Adawiyyah (ca 717-801), one of the best-known saints in Islam and is a prominent figure in Sufi mysticism. Her poetry and writings have been compared with those of the later great Spanish mystics, including Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

“Love of God hath so absorbed me that neither love nor hate nor any other thing remains in my heart.”

A lifelong celibate, her devotion and love for God was so great that she is credited with being one of the first great Sufis to give ecstatic voice to the theme of Divine Love. Her poems about the love of God are among the first love poems in Sufi literature.

I love thee with two loves, love of my happiness,
And perfect love, to love thee as is my due.
My selfish love is that I do naught
But think on thee, excluding all beside;
But that purest love, which is thy due,
Is that the veils which hide thee fall, and I gaze on thee,
No praise to me in either this or that,
Nay, thine the praise for both that love and this.

The 99 names of God

The Sufi practice of meditating on the 99 names of God found in the Quran has become popular throughout the Islamic world. These 99 names, which do not include the name Allah, are usually listed as:

1, Ar-Rahman, the All-Compassionate
2, Ar-Rahim, the All-Merciful
3, Al-Malik, the Absolute Ruler
4, Al-Quddus, the Pure One
5, As-Salam, the Source of Peace
6, Al-Mu'min, the Inspirer of Faith
7, Al-Muhaymin, the Guardian
8, Al-'Aziz, the Victorious
9, Al-Jabbar, the Compeller
10, Al-Mutakabbir, the Greatest
11, Al-Khaliq, the Creator
12, Al-Bari', the Maker of Order
13, Al-Musawwir, the Shaper of Beauty
14, Al-Ghaffar, the Forgiving
15, Al-Qahhar, the Subduer
16, Al-Wahhab, the Giver of All
17, Ar-Razzaq, the Sustainer
18, Al-Fattah, the Opener
19, Al-'Alim, the Knower of All
20, Al-Qabid, the Constrictor
21, Al-Basit, the Reliever
22, Al-Khafid, the Abaser
23, Ar-Rafi', the Exalter
24, Al-Mu'izz, the Bestower of Honours
25, Al-Mudhill, the Humiliator
26, As-Sami, the Hearer of All
27, Al-Basir, the Seer of All
28, Al-Hakam, the Judge
29, Al-'Adl, the Just
30, Al-Latif, the Subtle One
31, Al-Khabir, the All-Aware
32, Al-Halim, the Forebearing
33, Al-'Azim, the Magnificent
34, Al-Ghafur, the Forgiver and Hider of Faults
35, Ash-Shakur, the Rewarder of Thankfulness
36, Al-'Ali, the Highest
37, Al-Kabir, the Greatest
38, Al-Hafiz, the Preserver
39, Al-Muqit, the Nourisher
40, Al-Hasib, the Accounter
41, Al-Jalil, the Mighty
42, Al-Karim, the Generous
43, Ar-Raqib, the Watchful One
44, Al-Mujib, the Responder to Prayer
45, Al-Wasi', the All-Comprehending
46, Al-Hakim, the Perfectly Wise
47, Al-Wadud, the Loving One
48, Al-Majíd, the Majestic One
49, Al-Ba'ith, the Resurrector
50, Ash-Shahid, the Witness
51, Al-Haqq, the Truth
52, Al-Wakil, the Trustee
53, Al-Qawi, the Possessor of All Strength
54, Al-Matin, the Forceful One
55, Al-Wáli, the Governor
56, Al-Hamid, the Praised One
57, Al-Muhsi, the Appraiser
58, Al-Mubdi, the Originator
59, Al-Mu'id, the Restorer
60, Al-Muhyi, the Giver of Life
61, Al-Mumit, the Taker of Life
62, Al-Hayy, the Ever-Living One
63, Al-Qayyum, the Self-Existing One
64, Al-Wajid, the Finder
65, Al-Májid, the Glorious
66, Al-Wahid, the Only One
67, Al-Ahad, the One
68, As-Samad, the Satisfier of All Needs
69, Al-Qadir, the All-Powerful
70, Al-Muqtadir, the Creator of All Power
71, Al-Muqaddim, the Expediter
72, Al-Mu'akhkhir, the Delayer
73, Al-Awwal, the First
74, Al-Akhir, the Last
75, Az-Zahir, the Manifest One
76, Al-Batin, the Hidden One
77, Al-Walí, the Protecting Friend
78, Al-Muta'ali, the Supreme One
79, Al-Barr, the Doer of Good
80, At-Tawwib, the Guide to Repentance
81, Al-Muntaqim, the Avenger
82, Al-Afu, the Forgiver
83, Ar-Ra'uf, the Clement
84, Malik al-Mulk, the Owner of All
85, Dhul-Jalali Wal-Ikram, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty
86, Al-Muqsit, the Equitable One
87, Al-Jami, the Gatherer
88, Al-Ghani, the Rich One
89, Al-Mughni, the Enricher
90, Al-Mani', the Preventer of Harm
91, Ad-Darr, the Creator of the Harmful
92, An-Nafi, the Creator of Good
93, An-Nur, the Light
94, Al-Hadi, the Guide
95, Al-Badi, the Originator
96, Al-Baqi, the Everlasting One
97, Al-Warith, the Inheritor of All
98, Ar-Rashid, the Righteous Teacher
99, As-Sabur, the Patient One

The word Allah simply means the God.

Do you think any of the 99 Names would be out of place in a Christian litany?

Which names do you think have Biblical resonances?

Compare 73 and 74, the First and the Last, with the Alpha and the Omega.

How about the way, the truth and the light?

How adequate are our resources for naming and calling on God?

How limited are those resources?

Do you find the forms of addressing God in the collects in The Book of Common Prayer limiting?

The Christian composer John Tavener was commissioned by Prince Charles to write The Beautiful Names, a musical setting for the 99 Names of God drawn from the Qur’an and performed in Westminster Abbey. This eclectic work draws inspiration from several religions other than Islam and Christianity, but has provoked unease among Christians who regard it as inappropriate for performance in a Christian church.

Christopher Howse, a Roman Catholic columnist with the Daily Telegraph, wrote some years ago: “The word Allah refers to the same God that Jews and Christians worship. There is no doubt of that. He is the God of Abraham and Isaac; the one living God. He is the God that Jesus worshipped and whom he invoked, in Aramaic, as he died on the cross, calling on him by the name Eloi.” However, these views also drew a storm of protest.

Difficulties and opportunities:

Church and Mosque side-by-side in an urban setting in Egypt (Photograph, Patrick Comerford)

Even if we solved all our problems, we would have to ask whether we can pray together?

This is of a different nature than the question: Can Jews and Christians pray together? Of course they can: Christ and the Apostolic community worshipped in the Temple and in synagogues. And while Jews generally have no problem about us praying with them, they can have reservations (some) about coming to pray with us, unless there are prior assurances.

However, shared prayer with Muslims is of a different nature. What do Muslims understand we are doing should we join them in prayer, when this is regarded as submission to Islam?

If we invite Muslims to pray in our churches, may they be quietly offended, for despite what the Quran says about us being “people of the book,” there are Muslims who think we are not monotheists, but tritheists, and that our Trinity is God, Jesus and Mary.

Can we pray the words of the Fathiah?

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being,
The All-merciful, the All-compassionate,
Master of the Day of Judgment,
Thee only we serve; to thee we pray for succour.
Guide us in the straight path,
The path of those whom Thou hast blessed,
Not of those against whom Thou art wrathful,
Nor of those who are astray.

Quran 1: 1-7

What does a Muslim mean by those who deserve God’s anger or who have gone astray?

Finding opportunities:

There are, however, opportunities.

There are people who often think of the Islamic world as barbarous, where criminals have their hands chopped off hands, women are forced to wear the chador, and condemned women are stoned to death.

But I would not like Christianity to be judged by the use of the electric chair in some states in the US, or by the behaviour of the Crusaders, or even by the behaviour of some of our politicians and bankers today.

Muslims often think of the West as decadent, which is why many Muslims are happier with their girls going to convent schools.

There are areas of ethical and public behaviour that offer opportunities for mutual co-operation and room for exploration. These areas include: the exploitation of the poor; global banking ethics; equality; family values, &c.

Finding those opportunities:

A mosque on the Greek island of Rhodes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1, Look for prayerful opportunities, even if prayer together is not always possible. For example invite your Muslim neighbours and friends to church events, keep them informed of church activities within the community. It can be hurtful not to count them in, for example, when we pray after major national or international disasters.

2, Do not wait for invitations. Instead, initiate visits. Go to a mosque and a restaurant. I experienced a wonderful example of how fieldwork can enrich dialogue when I took a group of academics by to Rhodes, where we visited Crusader sites, mosques, and met local Greek Muslims who were of Turkish ethnic ancestry,

3, Seek to educate others in sensitivity (e.g. headscarves, places to pray and not to pray, the needs of children fasting during Ramadan). At a negative level, this counter-balances tendencies that could develop into racism or xenophobia. But at a positive level these become opportunities for dialogue and exchange.

4, Find opportunities to meet and eat together. As a family, we shop in the mosque in Clonskeagh and on the South Circular Road for Greek food, garlic peppers, falafels, feta cheese. But you can also go to Id celebrations when you are invited, and can ask Muslims about their food customs…

5, Do not wait for disasters to occur. Consult those who are aware of the issues that may arise. Know who they are in advance. Get to know friendly, local Muslims too.

Some reading

Coleman Barks has three volumes of translation of Rumi’s poetry:
Like This,
Open Secret and
We are three.

John Baldock, The Essence of Rumi (London: Arcturus, 2006).
John Baldock, The Essence of Sufism (Royston: Eagle/Arcturus, 2004).
John Bowker, Voices of Islam (Oxford: One World, 1995).
Colin Chapman, Cross & Crescent: responding to the challenge of Islam (Leicester: IVP, 1995).
Patrick Comerford Embracing Difference: The Church of Ireland in a Plural Society (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2007).
Patrick Comerford, Reflections of the Bible in the Qur’an (Dublin: The National Bible Society of Ireland, 2008, The Bedell Boyle Lecture 2006).
JS Cutsinger, Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East (Bloomington IN: World Wisdom, 2002).
William Dalrymple, From the Holy Mountain: a journey in the shadow of Byzantium (London: Flamingo/Harper Collins, 1998).
Hugh Goddard, Christians & Muslims: From double standards to mutual understanding (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1995).
Guidelines for Interfaith Events & Dialogue, Prepared by the Committee for Christian Unity and the Bishops of the Church of Ireland (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2007).
BE Hinze and IA Omar (eds), Heirs of Abraham: the future of Muslim, Jewish and Christian Relations (Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 2005).
Michael Ipgrave (ed), The Road Ahead: a Christian-Muslim Dialogue (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
Michael Ipgrave (ed), Scriptures in Dialogue: Christians and Muslims studying the Bible and the Qur’an together (London: Church House Publishing, 2004).
Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
Michael Nazir-Ali, Islam: A Christian Perspective (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1983).
Michael Nazir-Ali, Mission and Dialogue (London: SPCK, 1995).
Leslie Newbigin, Lamin Sanneh and Jenny Taylor, Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in ‘Secular’ Britain (London: SPCK, 1998).
Malise Ruthven, Islam in the West (London: Penguin, 2000).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and a former secretary of the Inter-Faith Working Group of the Church of Ireland. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Lenten talk in Saint Brigid’s Parish, Castleknock, Co Dublin, on 27 March 2012.