Saturday, 29 March 2014
Introducing Ecumenism: Reading the Bible Ecumenically
Mater Dei Institute of Education,
Day One: 29 March 2014
14.00 Session 3: The Bible and Ecumenism in Anglican and Orthodox Perspective
This afternoon, I have been asked to introduce different perspectives on reading the Bible, firstly from the Anglican perspective, and then I hope to interpret rather than offer the Orthodox perspective.
I am an Anglican priest and theologian, teaching ordinands on a masters programme, with a specialist interest in Liturgy, Church History, and Patristics, and those subjects will be reflected in my emphases this afternoon.
My experience of Orthodoxy comes from spending time over the last three or four decades many years in Greece, many years studying at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge, and many years of enjoying the hospitality of Orthodox monasteries and churches in Greece, Romania and England, including the monasteries on Mount Athos, Mount Sinai, Patmos, Crete, Cyprus and in England.
1: Anglican perspectives:
Key figures in the story of the Anglican Reformation and the translation of the Bible depicted in a window in Trinity College, Cambridge, from left (top row): Hugh Latimer, Edward VI, Nicholas Ridley, Elizabeth I; (second row): John Wycliffe, Erasmus, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Scripture is at the heart of the Anglican Reformation. In the pre-Reformation movements, one of the key demands of Wycliffe and the Lollards is making the Bible available in the common language of the Bible.
The unfolding of the Anglican reformation begins with two events in 1536 that set out the priorities of making Scripture accessible in the language of the people, and the clarification of doctrine with an emphasis on the Bible:
● The decision to set up Coverdale’s English translation of the Bible in every church in England.
● The publication of the Ten Articles.
The first of Ten Articles published in 1536 by Thomas Cranmer asserted the binding authority of the Bible, the three ecumenical creeds and the first four ecumenical councils.
In 1538 it was stipulated that the Bible should be placed in every church, that the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments should be recited in English, and that no-one should be admitted to Holy Communion without having learnt them.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer ... the Great Bible, printed in Paris in 1539 under his patronage, was revised in the years that followed
In his preface to the Great Bible (1540), Thomas Cranmer speaks of the good effect of Bible reading on society and on the individual: “In the scriptures be the fat pastures of the soul … He that is ignorant, shall find there what he should learn.”
In August 1547, an instruction was issued that the Epistle and Gospel should be read from the English Bible on Sundays.
The foundational Anglican understanding of the centrality of Scripture is expressed in in 1562 in the 39 Articles. Article VI and Article VII deal with the authority, content and teachings of the Bible:
6. Of the sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of Holy Scripture, we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Of the names and number of the Canonical Books.
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The First Book of Esdras, The Second Book of Esdras, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or Preacher, Cantica, or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the greater, Twelve Prophets the less.
And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:
The Third Book of Esdras, The Fourth Book of Esdras, The Book of Tobias, The Book of Judith, The rest of the Book of Esther, The Book of Wisdom, Jesus the Son of Sirach, Baruch the Prophet, The Song of the Three Children, The Story of Susanna, Of Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, The First Book of Maccabees, The Second Book of Maccabees.
All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them canonical.
7. Of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.
I and II Esdras are now commonly known as Ezra and Nehemiah; III Esdras in an appendix to the Vulgate is I Esdras in the Greek the Greek bible; and IV Esdras in the Vulgate appendix is in the Slavonic but not the Greek Bible.
As you can see, Article 6 says the Apocryphal texts may be used in the public worship and preaching of the Church, saying “the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners.”
In addition, Article 24 states a guiding principle of the Anglican Reformation – that the Word of God and the words of the liturgy should be available in language “understanded of the people.”
1.1, The Book of Common Prayer:
The Book of Common Prayer … saturates Anglican public worship with Scripture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Anglican public worship is fully biblical. The services of The Book of Common Prayer are saturated with Scripture, from the very beginning, when they open with a sentence of Scripture.
The first Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549, and was introduced in Ireland in 1551. The 1552 Book of Common Prayer was never authorised for use in Ireland, although the preface is included in later editions in Ireland. The 1662 version of The Book of Common Prayer became the definitive version of the Prayer Book, and all future editions are basically revisions of that edition.
A set group of sentences from Scripture are provided for the opening of the traditional order of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (see The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, 2004, pp 78-83), while the modern form of these services opens with the greeting: “The Lord be with you” (see Ruth 2: 4).
Cranmer’s beautifully crafted General Confession may be based on the Confession in the Strasbourg Liturgy but it has resonances of Romans 7: 8-25 and the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15).
The Lord’s Prayer follows the confession and absolution in the traditional format for Morning and Evening Prayer, although it is moved to a later place in Order 2. Nevertheless, wherever it is used, it is the very essence of Scriptural prayer, and is prescribed for every form of Anglican public worship.
The prayers that follow are completely Biblical throughout, including the canticles, the preces, and the versicles and responses.
An example familiar to Anglicans is the short dialogue or opening versicles and responses in the daily services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer:
O Lord, open our lips:
And our mouth will proclaim your praise.
O God, make speed to save us:
O Lord, make haste to help us.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be for ever. Amen.
Praise the Lord.
The Lord’s name be praised.
Apart from the doxology or Gloria, these are based on the Psalms, the first pair from Psalm 51: 15; the second pair from Psalm 40: 13.
The original provisions for Morning and Evening Prayer expected the Psalter to be read through month by month, and this is the only complete book of the Bible to be bound in, in its entirety, with The Book of Common Prayer.
But it is interesting to note that the Psalms in The Book of Common Prayer were not those found in the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible of 1611. Different versions were used from a revised form of the Psalms in the Great Bible of 1540 in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, to a Psalter based on Coverdale in 1662. Even Coverdale’s translation was amended, corrected and revised from 1662 on.
At first, in Cranmer’s pattern, it was expected that the Psalter would be read through in one month, with portions from the Psalter being marked out as Day 1 (Morning Prayer, Psalms 1-5, Evening Prayer, Psalms 6-8), and so on, until Day 30 (Morning Prayer, Psalms 144-146; Evening Prayer, Psalms 147-150). In addition, each Psalm was headed with its traditional Latin title. Obviously, the Psalter was short-changed in February, and in 31-day months the provisions for Day 30 were repeated, while a longer psalm, taking the example of Psalm 119, was divided between Days 24 (Evening Prayer, verses 1-32), 25, (Morning Prayer, verses 33-72; Evening Prayer, 73-104), and 26 (Morning Prayer, 105-144; Evening Prayer, 145-176).
Between the Psalms and the Scripture readings, there are provisions for canticles, most of which are Biblical songs or Psalms, including (at Morning Prayer) Venite (Psalm 95), Benedicite (the Song of the Three, 35-36), Urbs Fortitudinis (Isaiah 26: 1-4, 7-8), Laudate Dominum (Psalm 148), Jubilate (Psalm 100), and Benedictus (the Song of Zechariah, Luke 1: 68-79), and (at Evening Prayer) Deus Misereatur (Psalm 67), Ecce Nunc (Psalm 67), Magnificat (the Song of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Luke 1: 46-55), Cantate Domino (Psalm 98) and Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2: 29-32).
The three Gospel Canticles were once appended to the Psalter as the hymn-book of the Church, so that the Sarum Breviary referred to the “Psalm Benedictus.” In one edition of Edward VI’s first Prayer Book, the rubric directs its use “throughout the whole year.”
The canticle Benedicite is an interesting example of the use in Anglican public worship of Scriptural passages that are often categorised as Apocryphal. ‘The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Holy Children’ is a lengthy passage that appears after Daniel 3: 23 in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions of the Bible, as well as in the Septuagint.
It was commonly sung among the morning psalms in the fourth century, some writers of that age speak of it as Scripture, and Saint Benedict provided for it in his Rule. Benedicite is especially suitable to the first Lessons of some particular days, including Septuagesima Sunday and the 21st Sunday after Trinity, or as a substitute for Te Deum on Sundays during Lent. However, its use on weekdays in Lent is no longer required by the rubrics.
The lectionary in ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ provides for an almost complete reading of the Bible in the course of a year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The lectionary in The Book of Common Prayer provides for an almost complete reading of the Bible in the course of a year.
The recovery of continuous Bible reading, which had been lost in the course of time from the Breviary, was one of the main catalysts in the revisions of The Book of Common Prayer. Appointing two chapters for reading at Morning and Evening Prayer, one from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament, was itself a return to primitive custom.
How did Cranmer draft his Lectionary? The Breviary of the Spanish Cardinal Francisco de Quiñones (1482-1540), commissioned by Pope Clement VII and published in the reign of Pope Paul III in 1535, influenced Cranmer considerably. We see this both in his three drafts of the lectionary and in the actual wording of the 1549 Preface, which is similar to that of Quiñones.
The crucial difference between the two is the difference between a breviary, intended primarily and explicitly for the use of clergy and religious, and a book of common prayer, intended for the use of all, clergy and laity alike.
The principal importance of Cranmer’s use of scripture lies in establishing the ordered reading of scripture as the basis of common prayer. The subsequent developments in the lectionary, until very recently, may be seen as contributing to, improving and, in some sense, completing that project. But the fundamental principle governing the lectionaries is the understanding of scripture as a doctrinal instrument of salvation.
This principle is most clearly stated by Richard Hooker (1554-1600): “The end of the Word of God is to save, and therefore we term it the word of life. The way for all men to be saved is by the knowledge of that truth which the word hath taught … To this end the word of God no otherwise serveth than only in the nature of a doctrinal instrument. It saveth because it maketh ‘wise to salvation’.”
Such a view understands a necessary and intimate relation between scripture and doctrine, and such an understanding governs the reading of scripture in the Prayer Book tradition.
Cranmer’s daily office lectionary allowed for the reading of most of the Old Testament and Apocrypha once, and for the reading of the New Testament, excluding Revelation, three times in the course of the year. The Old Testament was read seriatim at the first lessons of both Mattins and Evensong, beginning in January with Genesis.
Also beginning in January was the course of New Testament reading, which was divided between Mattins and Evensong. At Mattins only the Gospels, beginning with Matthew, and Acts were read, while the epistles, beginning with Romans, were read at Evensong. At both Mattins and Evensong, the cycle would be repeated three times.
In the case of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the readings followed the order of the books in the Bible, with one very important exception: Isaiah was not read in its place in the biblical order but was reserved for late November through December so as to attend the season of Advent.
Anthony Sparrow (1612-1685), Bishop of Norwich and then of Exeter, noted: “the Prophet Esay [Isaiah] being the most Evangelical Prophet most plainly prophesying of Christ, is reserved to be read a little before Advent.”
In this way, Cranmer’s 1549 lectionary provides the basis for all subsequent lectionary developments within the common prayer tradition by establishing the two offices of Mattins and Evensong, by appointing two lessons, an Old Testament and a New Testament lesson, for each office, and by structuring a comprehensive and continuous system of scripture reading based upon the order of the civil year.
In this way, most of the Biblical narrative, with the exception of the Book of Revelation, was read through twice in the year, interrupted only on certain Holy Days with their own proper history.
The Suffrages or Lesser Litany:
After the Scriptural readings and the Creed, the Lesser Litany is the prelude to the prayers in Morning and Evening Prayer. In the old Latin Offices the Greek words Kyrie Eleison were retained here, as at Mass, and each clause was usually thrice repeated.
The Versicles seem to have been taken not directly from the Breviary provisions for Prime, Compline, Lauds, the Lesser Hours, and Evensong, but from a similar selection in the form of ‘Bidding the Bedes,’ that was probably better known to the people at large than either of the forms in the Breviary:
Ostende nobis, Domine, misericordiam tuam:
Et salutare tuum da nobis.
Sacerdotes tui induantur justitiam:
Et sancti tui exultent.
Domine, salvum fac regem:
Et exaudi nos in die qua invocaverimus te.
Salvos fac serves tuos et ancillas tuas:
Domine, Deus meus, sperantes in te.
Salvum fac populum tuum, Domine.
Et benedic hrereditati tuæ.
Domine, fiat pax in virtute tua:
Et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Domine, exaudi orationem meam:
Et clamor meus ad te veniat.
Et cum spiritu tuo.
These Versicles, except the fourth and the last in the series, form the present suffrages. Some alterations were introduced from the text of the Psalms, from which they were originally taken, the second and third pair were transposed, the fifth versicle is used in the shorter of two forms. The idea of the sixth is kept, but in view of the collect for peace which is to follow the old antiphon which was used with it in the ‘memorial for peace’ is substituted for the regular versicle.
Similarly, in view of the collect for grace which is to follow, a new versicle and response is made and put in place of the Domine, exaudi which in the old series paved the way for the collect.
Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
O Lord, guide and defend our rulers
and grant our government wisdom.
Let your ministers be clothed with righteousness
and let your servants shout for joy.
O Lord, save your people
and bless those whom you have chosen.
Give peace, in our time, O Lord,
and let your glory be over all the earth.
O God, make clean our hearts within us,
and renew us by your Holy Spirit.
Once again, it is easy to discover how each of these petitions is based on scriptural passages:
Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation (Psalm 85: 7).
O Lord, guide and defend our rulers
and grant our government wisdom (see I Samuel 10: 24; Psalm 20: 9).
Let your ministers be clothed with righteousness
and let your servants shout for joy (Psalm 132: 9).
O Lord, save your people
and bless those whom you have chosen (Psalm 28: 9).
Give peace, in our time, O Lord,
and let your glory be over all the earth (Psalm 57: 9).
O God, make clean our hearts within us,
and renew us by your Holy Spirit (see Psalm 51: 10-11).
This tradition continues in the adaptation of the versicles and responses in the Prayer Book tradition throughout the Anglican Communion.
The collects are a unique and rich part of Anglican heritage and they too are saturated with Biblical language, particularly from the Pauline epistles. The same could be said about the other sections of public worship in The Book of Common Prayer.
Morning and Evening Prayer usually conclude one of four selected scriptural passages: II Corinthians 13: 14; Ephesians 3: 20; I Timothy 1: 176, and the Pauline Grace (Romans 15: 13).
At the Eucharist, it is important to note that although originally the provisions were normally for an Epistle and Gospel reading, it was expected that a fuller provision for a cycle of Biblical readings would be provided by Morning Prayer being read before the Holy Communion.
Modern liturgical revisions take account of the reality that most celebrations of the Eucharist do not take place immediately after Morning Prayer. And so, all the Eucharistic texts in The Book of Common Prayer provide for an Old Testament Reading, a psalm (sometimes replaced by a Canticle), an Epistle reading or a reading from the either Acts of the Apostles or the Book of Revelation, and a Gospel reading.
The Lambeth Quadrilateral, adopted at the third Lambeth Conference in 1888, serves as a definitive understanding of the essentials of Anglican theology and ecclesiology. It states clearly in the third point that the Eucharist or Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper must be “ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s Words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by him.”
Of course, we could debate all afternoon about which are the dominical words – those used in Matthew, Mark, Luke or I Corinthians. We find in all Anglican rites not an unfailing use, but an amalgam and a synthesis of these different passages (see Matthew 26: 20-29; Mark 14: 17-25; Luke 22: 14-20; I Corinthians 11: 23-26). For alone, Saint Paul and Saint Luke are alone in quoting the command to “do this in my remembrance” – must these words be used unfailingly?
1.2, Translating and reading the Bible:
William Tyndale ... his labours and his suffering paved the way for the Authorised Version
As I have said, the demand for access to the Bible in the language of the people is one of the key demands and catalysts of the Anglican Reformation. Some early, private translations of the Bible had been made from the Vulgate. But they remained private until John Wycliffe (1320-1384), had translated the Bible into English in the 14th century, completing his work in 1384.
In the early part of the reign of Henry VIII, William Tyndale (1494-1536) translated his English version of the Bible in the 1520s and 1530s, using the Hebrew and Greek texts, and drawing on the work of Erasmus as his foundation. Most of his work was completed abroad, but the authorities caught up with Tyndale in 1536 and he was burned at the stake. His dying words were: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” Yet, Tyndale laid the foundations for many of the English Bibles that followed.
The Coverdale Bible, translated by Myles Coverdale (1487-1567), a Cambridge monk, in 1535, drew on Luther’s German translation, the Latin Bible and Tyndale’s work. The Matthew Bible, published by John Rogers using the pseudonym Thomas Matthew, followed in 1537.
The Great Bible, printed in Paris in 1539, under the patronage of Thomas Cranmer, was essentially a revision of the Matthew Bible, and was revised again and again in the following years. This Great Bible is the translation that Thomas Cromwell ordered to be set up in every parish church in 1538, although it was not finished until 1539.
Coverdale, who later became Bishop of Exeter, subsequently became a leading Puritan.
The Psalter in Coverdale’s Bible was bound in the with different versions of The Book of Common Prayer and also provided many of the Scriptural passaged quoted directly in the liturgical rites in the The Book of Common Prayer.
The title page of the first edition of the King James Version of the Bible
However, the great Anglican contribution not only to the wider Church but to English literature too must be the King James Version or Authorised Version of the Bible, and virtually all English translations since are based on or a reaction to the KJV.
The King James Version of the Bible was published in 1611 and has deeply influenced the way we speak and has left a lasting literary cultural legacy.
The literary development and maturing of the English language by the beginning of the 17th century, the discovery of new Biblical manuscripts and Biblical Hebrew and Greek, and the combined effect of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the development of printing, all at a time when Britain was entering a period of political and social stability and coherence, brought into being a well-loved version of the Bible that remains an enduring standard in many ways to this day. Although several revisions were made to update and correct errors in its translation and its printing, it was deliberately memorable in its prose and poetry.
But how did we get this version of the Bible? And what is its lasting and enduring legacy?
By the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, more English translations had followed, including the Geneva Bible in 1557 and 1560. It was a scholarly work, using original texts, smaller fonts and the familiar verse format of today’s Bibles, with particular words highlighted to indicate they had been added to emphasise the original. Although this version exhibited many strong biases, It quickly gained popularity, despite its many strong biases, and was popularly known as the “Breeches’ Bible” for its description of the naked Adam and Eve making themselves breeches (Genesis 3: 7).
Archbishop Matthew Parker in a carving at the chapel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge ... he supervised the publication of the Bishops’ Bible in 1568 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The Bishops’ Bible, a revision of the Great Bible supervised by Archbishop Matthew Parker, was published in 1568 and revised in 1578, and remained in use throughout England until the King James Version was published in 1611.
When King James I of Scotland ascended the throne of England in 1603, following the death of Elizabeth I, he found England a country that was suspicious of its new king, who spoke with a heavy Scottish accent and who was seen as a foreigner. Yet one famous comment described him as “the wisest fool in Christendom.”
Although the Bishops’ Bible was being read in churches, it was inelegant, and the Geneva Bible, which was bolder and more accessible, was the choice of both the Puritans and the people. For royalists, and especially for James I, the marginal notes in the Geneva Bible did not sufficiently respect to the divine right of kings, with its references to kings as tyrants and its challenges to regal authority.
In January 1604, James I called a conference at Hampton Court, bringing together the bishops of the Church of England and the leading Puritan scholars of the day. He refused Puritan demands to revise the liturgy, but proposed a new translation of the Bible, without the marginal notes he regarded as seditious.
For seven years, over 50 scholars and theologians worked through the Bible line-by-line for seven years. They worked in six companies or teams, each with eight members, two working in Oxford, two in Cambridge and two in Westminster. They worked on translating the Bible from its original languages, taking advantage of more available manuscripts and increased scholarship.
Bishop Lancelot Andrewes ... supervised much of the translation work from 1604 to 1611 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The work was co-ordinated by Archbishop Richard Bancroft and Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, one of the great Anglican divines of the day. The first draft was available in 1609 and was redrafted the following year. The final agreed version was published on 2 May 1611, seven years after King James had called the Hampton Court conference.
The king’s instructions to the translators guarantee their work would reflect the king’s authority and the episcopal structures of the Church of England. They agreed to use the word bishop instead of overseer or supervisor, and accepted words that positively expressed kingship, kingdom and royal authority. In a triumph for James I, the new translation upheld the king in his rule and the bishops in the established Church of England.
A page from the King James Version shows the original typeface and layout of 1611
To appreciate the literary legacy of the KJV, it is worth comparing successive translations of Matthew 6: 34b:
● For the daye present hath ever ynough of his awne trouble (Tyndale).
● Every daye hath ynough of his owne travayll (Coverdale).
● Sufficident unto the daye is the travayle therof (Great Bible)
● The day hathe ynough with his owne grief (Geneva)
● Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (KJV).
Lasting literary legacy
No further revision was made to the King James Version for a further 270 years, apart from a few amendments introduced in the 1700s. The Revised Version was published in 1881, and since then there have been many more versions, each with its own nuances or emphasis, including the New English Bible, the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version.
1.3, The Bible and Anglican theological scholarship:
I shall come into a moment to Translating the Bible into Irish. But let me say at this stage that the way we read the Bible today is very different than the way it was read 400 years ago by the scholars and theologians who produced the King James Version because of the work of two Cambridge theologians, one of whom was born in Dublin.
Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828-1892), who was born in 35 Merrion Square, Dublin, worked with his Cambridge colleague, Brooke Westcott, in editing The New Testament in the Original Greek. Fenton Hort has been called the “greatest English theologian of the [19th] century, although in fact he was Irish-born, spent his early days in Leopardstown, Co Dublin, and always regarded Ireland as his home.
Hort was friends with FD Maurice and Charles Kingsley, and was influenced by their views on working class politics and Christian Socialism. In the 1850s, Hort and Westcott agreed to begin a project to jointly edit a critical edition of the Greek New Testament.
In 1870, Hort was appointed a member of the committee for revising the translation of the New Testament, and for 10 years this was one of the most exacting demands on his time.
In 1878, Hort was appointed Hulsean Professor of Divinity in Cambridge. On 12 May 1881, Hort and Westcott published their edition of the text of the Greek New Testament based on their critical work of the previous 20 years. Its publication became the basis for their translation of the New Testament. The publication created a sensation among scholars, and was received generally as being the nearest approximation yet made to the original Greek text of the New Testament.
In 1887, Hort was elected Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity in Cambridge. He died in his sleep in Cambridge on 30 November 1892.
So, how we read the Bible is very different today because of the work of this Irish-born theologian, Fenton Hort.
1.4, The Bible in Anglican everyday life and culture:
The Bible remains central to the personal and family devotions of most Anglicans to this day. In families where family times of prayer still prevail – albeit as frequent as one finds the Rosary being said as family devotions in Roman Catholic homes – the Bible has central place.
Customarily, a passage of the Bible would be read, and prayers would focus on that passage.
Privately, many Anglicans will use daily suggested Bible readings for their one private prayer, perhaps using monthly notes provided by agencies such as the Bible Reading Fellowship.
Many people will remember particular passages of the Bible, committed to memory since childhood, such as Psalms and Canticles.
In pastoral visits, to parishioners at home or in hospital, clergy will use a Bible reading in the prayers they share. Children learn the overarching Biblical narrative, as well as particular passage, from childhood in Sunday schools and in RE classes in schools, and school prizes may often take the form of a Bible. Not only will each home own a Bible, but typically, each individual member of a family will own a personal Bible, often more than one and more than one version.
At a wider cultural level, it may be said that members of the Church of Ireland have a benign proprietorial attitude to the Book of Kells in the Library in Trinity College Dublin, expressed in the work of the late Archbishop George Otto Simms, who bridged the popular and scholarly approaches and made the Book of Kells familiar in parishes throughout the Church of Ireland.
If the King James Version of the Bible has shaped our language, through phrases for example from the Psalms or the Book of Job, modern translations of the Bible have also been shaped by key Anglican figures in modern English literature, so that both TS Eliot and CS Lewis worked on translations of the psalms, and the poetry of John Betjeman is rich with Biblical imagery.
Eliot was strongly critical of the New English Bible which was published in the 1960s and his criticism was based on doctrine, accuracy of translation, and that of English prose style. He also said that the Revised Standard Version “was the work of men who did not realise they were atheists.”
Betjeman’s memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey includes books representing the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Authorised Version of the Bible.
1.5, The Bible in Irish and the Bible in Ireland
If Article 24 contains one of the key guiding principles of the Anglican Reformation – that the Word of God and the words of the liturgy should be available in language “understanded of the people” – then why did it take Anglicans so long to translate the Bible into the Irish language?
The failure to produce either a complete Bible or a Book of Common Prayer in Irish for generations was a factor contributing to the failure of the Reformation in Ireland. An Irish-language version of The Book of Common Prayer was not produced until 1608, when it was the work of William Daniel, Archbishop of Tuam (1609-1628). A complete Irish-language translation of the Bible was not published until 1685, bringing together Archbishop Daniel’s New Testament by and the Old Testament translation by William Bedell (1571-1642), Bishop of Kilmore.
Bedell was a Caroline divine who insisted as Provost of Trinity College Dublin that theology students should learn Irish to enhance their ministry and who commissioned the translation of the Bible into Irish.
Bedell was educated at Cambridge. At an early age he translated The Book of Common Prayer into Italian, and he learned Hebrew from a rabbi in Venice to enhance his commitment to translating the Bible.
When he became Provost of Trinity College Dublin in 1627, he introduced New Testament readings by a native Irish speaker at Commons and prayers in Irish in the chapel. In an attempt to train clergy to preach in Irish, he employed Murtagh King, from a bardic family in Kilcoursey, Co Offaly, as an Irish teacher.
When Bedell became Bishop of Kilmore in 1629, he brought King with him to his new diocese and worked with him on translating the Old Testament. In 1631, Bedell published a simple, bilingual catechism. In very petulant terms, James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, censured Bedell for learning Irish and for preaching to the people in the only language they knew. Ussher was showing how he shared the prejudices of his class, in direct opposition to the principles of the Reformation.
Throughout his career, Bedell minimised the doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants, and worked tirelessly in Co Cavan, often in the face of opposition from his own clergy and fellow bishops, to relieving hardship and poverty among the people. He died a martyr’s death on 7 February 1642. At his burial, a local Catholic priest, Father Edmund Farrely, was heard to exclaim: “O sit anima mea cum Bedello! May my soul be with Beddell’s.”
Later the Bible became a source of conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, a conflict at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries that has been charted by Professor Irene Whelan in The Bible War in Ireland: The ‘Second Reformation’ and the Polarization of Protestant-Catholic Relations, 1800-1840 (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2005).
Evangelical missionaries in the Church of Ireland realised the importance of the availability of the Bible in Irish, which received attention from a diverse collection of people, including Edward Nangle in the Achill Mission in Co Mayo, the founders of the Ventry Mission in Co Kerry, and even the founders of Saint Columba’s College in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin.
1.6: Scripture, Reason and Tradition: the Anglican way of doing theology
The classical Anglican theological method is based on Scripture, Reason and Tradition, a three-fold cord that is ascribed to Richard Hooker.
Hooker has the reputation as being the founder of the Anglican theology of comprehensiveness and tolerance. His attitude to scripture was deeply nuanced by reason. He made reason the criterion of reading scripture – not the criterion of scripture, but of reading scripture, for Hooker held scripture in first place. He held reason necessary for the understanding and the application of scripture in all the areas in which scripture might be applied.
Hooker’s best known work and masterpiece is Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Its philosophical base is Aristotelian, with a strong emphasis on natural law eternally planted by God in creation. On this foundation, all positive laws of Church and State are developed from Scriptural revelation, ancient tradition, reason, and experience.
He argued that reason and tradition were important when interpreting the Scriptures, and that it was important to recognise that the Bible was written in a particular historical context, in response to specific situations: “Words must be taken according to the matter whereof they are uttered.”
1.7: The Bible and Anglican culture:
George Herbert, priest and poet … Anglican poets cannot be understood without taking account of their understanding of the Bible
We cannot read the poetry of George Herbert or John Donne without understanding and appreciating the way they read and understood the Bible. We cannot place TS Eliot, John Betjeman and CS Lewis in their proper places in modern English literature without understanding and appreciating the love they had for the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible.
The King James Version had an incalculable effect on peoples’ lives. Although its language and terminology seem archaic today, it reflects the every-day parlance of ordinary people at the beginning of the 17th century. Ever since, its language has become part and parcel of our language and our literature.
It has been well said that without the prose of the KJV, “there would be no Paradise Lost, no Pilgrim’s Progress, no Negro spirituals, no Gettysburg Address.”
The KJV is the poetry that inspired Handel’s Messiah. Even secular novels are drenched in the prose and poetry of the KJV. F. Scott Fitzgerald used its language when he named his books This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned; so too with John Steinbeck and East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath or William Faulkner with Go Down Moses and Absalom Absalom.
The language of the KJV has captivated modern musicians and songwriters too. The Byrds sang from Ecclesiastes in Turn Turn Turn, proclaiming there is “A time to be born, a time to die, A time to plant, a time to reap, A time to kill, a time to heal.” Simon and Garfunkel echoed the Gospels when they sang, Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down.
In moments of tragedy or turmoil or change, leaders have often turned to the King James Version. When the Revd Dr Martin Luther King dreamed, only the King James Version would suffice. He quoted from memory, and although his wording was not exact the poetry and passion came straight from the Prophet Isaiah in the KJV: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
In 1995, President Bill Clinton quoted Proverbs after the bombing in Oklahoma City: “Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness. Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind.”
The language of the King James Version language has formed hundreds of everyday phrases. Consider: “How the mighty are fallen” (Samuel 1: 19), “Can a leopard change its spot?” (Jeremiah 13: 23), “The writing is on the wall” (Daniel 5: 5-6), and “The blind leading the blind” (Matthew 15: 14). Phrases like these illustrate how the King James Version has been foundational in the English-speaking world, and has had a lasting impact on the way we express and understand our faith.
The Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos ... in theory all 150 psalms are read in order in Orthodox monasteries each week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
If Anglican theology can be summarised as “Scripture, Reason and Tradition,” then, as Professor Theodore Stylinopouos argues, Orthodox theology can be summarised as Scripture, tradition and the Church, a comprehensive unity with interdependent parts.
The Orthodox tradition advocates the supreme authority of the Bible and the Bible constitutes the record of divine revelation and forms the measuring standard for the faith and practice of the Church.
The canon of the Bible as we have it today is first identified and delineated not at the Councils of the Church or in the Creeds, but by the Early Fathers of the Church, particularly the Greek Fathers or Patristic writers.
Orthodox Biblical scholarship is no less rigorous than in other traditions, although it is deeply rooted in the Patristic understandings of Scripture, and noted modern Orthodox theologians who are respected internationally for their scholarship include Georges Florovsky, Vladimir Lossky, John Romanides, John Breck, Savas Agourides, Petros Vassiliadis and John McGuckin.
Of course, for Greek-speaking Orthodox people, the Bible is more directly accessible in the Greek of the Septuagint and the New Testament, and the directness of Saint Paul’s use of Greek, or the nuances of the Greek in the Johannine writings is more obvious.
The canon of the Orthodox Old Testament includes books that other traditions call “Apocryphal” or Deuterocanonical.”
The central use of the Bible in Orthodoxy is liturgical, in the context of the public worship of the Church, in liturgy and in homiletics, and then also in catechetical formation and teaching.
Whole Bibles, containing all books, may not always be used in the Liturgy, but necessary texts may often be found in three separate books: the Psalter, Gospel and Apostles (including the Acts of the Apostles), or they may be bound in with the liturgical texts.
The Book of the Gospels is itself an object of particular reverence, as an icon of Christ himself. Traditionally the front cover is decorated with an icon of the Crucifixion, and the back cover with an icon of the Harrowing of Hell.
Its place liturgically is in the centre of the Holy Table. It is censed before the reading and is accompanied by candles when it is carried in procession. The reverence shown to the Gospels in the procession in the Liturgy can be overwhelming for western Christians when they first observe it, even in ordinary parishes in Greece, Romania and Cyprus. But this Gospel procession is one of the insights from Orthodoxy that has been appropriated in western liturgical revisions, and can be seen every Sunday at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, for example.
Would that some conservative evangelicals who claim to give primacy to the Bible gave it the same liturgical reverence in their churches today.
Scripture is also used devotionally and private opportunities for times of prayer and scriptural reading are encouraged in Orthodoxy.
The Psalms are the backbone of the daily round of offices, and, after the Gospels, are the most familiar part of Scripture for Orthodox Christians. In theory all 150 psalms are read in order in Orthodox monasteries each week – the numbering in Greek differ at points from the two Western traditions of numbering. The Second Council of Nicaea decreed in 787: “Everyone who is raised to the rank of the episcopate shall know the Psalter by heart…”
Appendix 1: Some common English phrases derived from the King James Version:
A broken heart.
A house divided against itself.
A man after his own heart.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Am I my brother’s keeper?
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth
The apple of his eye.
At their wits’ end.
Can … the leopard [change] his spots?
Cast the first stone.
Chariots of fire.
Eat drink and be merry.
Fell by the way side.
Fallen from grace.
Fight the good fight.
Fire and brimstone.
Flesh and blood.
Fly in the ointment.
From strength to strength.
Gave up the ghost.
Holier than thou.
How are the mighty are fallen.
In the twinkling of an eye.
It is more blessed to give than receive.
Labour of love.
Lamb to the slaughter.
Law unto themselves.
Let there be light.
Manna from heaven.
Many are called, but few are chosen.
My cup runneth over.
Neither cast ye your pearls before swine.
Nothing new under the sun.
O ye of little faith.
Out of the mouth of babes.
Pride goes before a fall.
Put words in her mouth.
Put your house in order.
Reap what you sow.
See eye to eye.
Set his teeth on edge.
Signs of the times.
The blind lead the blind.
The ends of the earth.
The fat of the land.
The love of money is the root of all evil.
The powers that be.
The root of the matter.
The salt of the earth.
The skin of my teeth.
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
The straight and narrow.
Voice crying in the wilderness.
The wages of sin.
White as snow.
Woe unto me.
King’s College, Cambridge, the chapel, and the Backs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
What the Hijabi Witnessed (and What She Didn’t)
By Carl Trueman
I have had the pleasure on a couple of occasions of sitting next to a girl wearing a hijab. Typically, this has occurred in departure lounges of airports or on the platforms of railway stations. Never has it happened in a place of worship at the time of a service. Never, that is, until recently.
On the last Friday in June, I happened to be in Cambridge with my youngest son and decided to expose him to one of my alma mater’s true delights: choral evensong at King’s Chapel. We dutifully queued in the pouring rain (for me, those blue remembered hills are definitely English and cloud covered), and, when the chapel finally opened, we took our places at the far end of the aisle. It was then that I realized that the young girl sitting to my left was wearing a hijab. It was an interesting, if unlikely, juxtaposition: the middle aged Orthodox Presbyterian and the twenty-something Moslem waiting for the Anglican liturgy to begin. I assume that - rather like me – she was probably in the chapel for aesthetic reasons rather than religious ones. King’s choir is famous; the preaching in the chapel was, at least in my student days, at best, infamous. Sermons then were the ultimate Schleiermacherian nightmare: rambling reflections on the religious self-consciousness by the irremediably irreverent. It may have improved in recent decades but, not being remotely postmillennial, I have no confidence that that is the case.
Once the choir had entered and taken its place, the service began. For the next hour, the sardonic Presbyterian and the attractive hijabi sat, stood and on occasion knelt together as the congregation worked its way through the Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy for evensong, modified to take into account the appropriate Feast Day (as a good Presbyterian, I have erased the detail of whose day from my memory). The singing, both corporate and choral, was beautiful; and the austere elegance of Cranmer’s liturgy seemed to find its perfect acoustic context in the perpendicular poise of the late Gothic Chapel. Then, at the end, we filed out in silence, having, at the level of mere aesthetics, heard one of the great male choirs singing words of deep and passionate piety. Outside, the rain continued and my son and I left the young hijabi chatting on her phone as we headed off to Don Pasquale’s, a favourite haunt of my student days. Indeed, it was the place where one took a girl on a date if one wished to appear sophisticated while still operating on a budget. (For any would-be sophisticated but impoverished Cambridge bachelors out there, I can confirm that it is still there, and still a prudent balance of atmosphere and good value for money).
Sitting in Don Pasquale’s, my son and I indulged in a little thought experiment. What, we wondered, had the girl in the hijab made of it all? Culturally, it may not have been a completely alien environment. She was a Spanish Moslem, and, with the exception of the hijab, dressed in the casual attire of any fashion conscious Western girl. So the look and sounds of a Christian church was possibly not as alien to her as, for example, I had found the Blue Mosque in Istanbul while touring Turkey in the ’80s. Yet she was still a Moslem. The service itself would have been foreign territory.
So what exactly had she witnessed, I asked myself? Well, at a general level she had heard the English language at its most beautiful and set to an exalted purpose: the praise of Almighty God. She would also have seen a service with a clear biblical logic to it, moving from confession of sin to forgiveness to praise to prayer. She would also have heard this logic explained to her by the minister presiding, as he read the prescribed explanations that are built in to the very liturgy itself. The human tragedy and the way of salvation were both clearly explained and dramatized by the dynamic movement of the liturgy. And she would have witnessed all of this in an atmosphere of hushed and reverent quiet.
In terms of specific detail, she would also have heard two whole chapters of the Bible read out loud: one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Not exactly the whole counsel of God but a pretty fair snapshot. She would have been led in a corporate confession of sin. She would have heard the minister pronounce forgiveness in words shaped by scripture. She would have been led in corporate prayer in accordance with the Lord's own prayer. She would have heard two whole psalms sung by the choir. She would have had the opportunity to sing a couple of hymns drawn from the rich vein of traditional hymnody and shot through with scripture. She would have been invited to recite the Apostles’ Creed (and thus come pretty close to being exposed to the whole counsel of God). She would have heard collects rooted in the intercessory concerns of scripture brought to bear on the real world. And, as I noted earlier, all of this in the exalted, beautiful English prose of Thomas Cranmer.
Now, I confess to being something of an old Puritan when it comes to liturgy. Does it not lead to formalism and stifle the religion of the heart? Certainly I would have thought so fifteen or twenty years ago. Yet as I reflected on the service and what the girl in the hijab had witnessed, I could not help but ask myself if she could have experienced anything better had she walked into a church in the Protestant evangelical tradition. Two whole chapters of the Bible being read? To have one whole chapter from one Testament seems to test the patience of many today. Two whole psalms sung (and that as part of a calendar which proceeds through the whole Psalter)? That is surely a tad too old fashioned, irrelevant, and often depressing for those who want to go to church for a bit of an emotional boost. A structure for worship which is determined by the interface between theological truth and biblically-defined existential need? That sounds as if it might be vulnerable to becoming dangerously formulaic formalism. A language used to praise God which is emphatically not that employed of myself or of anybody else in their daily lives when addressing the children, the mailman, or the dog? I think the trendy adjective would be something like ‘inauthentic.’
Yet here is the irony: in this liberal Anglican chapel, the hijabi experienced an hour long service in which most of the time was spent occupied with words drawn directly from scripture. She heard more of the Bible read, said, sung and prayed than in any Protestant evangelical church of which I am aware – than any church, in other words, which actually claims to take the word of God seriously and place it at the centre of its life. Yes, it was probably a good thing that there was no sermon that day: I am confident that, as Carlyle once commented, what we might have witnessed then would have been a priest boring holes in the bottom of the Church of England. But that aside, Cranmer's liturgy meant that this girl was exposed to biblical Christianity in a remarkably beautiful, scriptural and reverent fashion. I was utterly convicted as a Protestant minister that evangelical Protestantism must do better on this score: for all of my instinctive sneering at Anglicanism and formalism, I had just been shown in a powerful way how far short of taking God’s word seriously in worship I fall.
Of course, there were things other than a sermon which the hijabi did not witness: she did not witness any adults behaving childishly; she did not witness anybody saying anything stupid; she did not witness any stand-up comedy routine or any casual cocksureness in the presence of God; she did not see any forty-something pretending to be cool; in short, she did not witness anything that made me, as a Christian, cringe with embarrassment for my faith, or for what my faith has too often become at the hands of the modern evangelical gospellers.
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Creedal Imperative (Crossway, 2012).
Appendix 3: TS Eliot and Nunc Dimittis
The canticle Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2: 29-32) stands alongside Magnificat as one of the best-loved canticles in the Anglican tradition of Choral Evensong:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace;
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
The cantcile Nunc Dimittis inspired TS Eliot’s poem, ‘A Song for Simeon’:
Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.
According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.
The Book of Common Prayer (Dublin: Columba, for the Church of Ireland, 2004).
Mary B Cunningham and Elizabeth Theokritoff (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Charles Hefling, Cynthia Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
William Marshall, Scripture, Tradition and Reason: a selective Anglican view of Anglican theology through the centuries (Dublin: Columba, 2010).
Harold Miller, The Desire of our Soul (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Francis Procter and Walter Howard Frere, The Book of Common Prayer, with a rationale for its Offices (London: Macmillan, 1965).
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin, new edition, 1997).
Professor Irene Whelan in The Bible War in Ireland: The ‘Second Reformation’ and the Polarization of Protestant-Catholic Relations, 1800-1840 (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2005).
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin, and Visiting Lecturer in Anglicanism, Mater Dei Institute of Education, a college of Dublin City University.
The other speakers at this seminar included: the Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck, Principal, Edgehill Theological College, Belfast; Dr Amanda Dillon, Academic Supervisor, All Hallows’ College, Dublin; Dr Brad Anderson, Lecture in Biblical Studies, School of Theology, Mater Dei Institute; and the Revd Dr Gabriel Flynn, Academic Leader for Research, Mater Dei Institute of Education, a college of Dublin City University.
For my choice of a work Art for Lent this morning (29 March 2014), I have chosen the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, Coventry Cathedral.
When Coventry was destroyed by German bombs on the night of 14 November 1940, the Cathedral hit by several incendiary devices and burned with the city. The decision to rebuild the cathedral was taken the next morning.
Shortly after the destruction, a cathedral worker, Jock Forbes, noticed that two charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the words ‘Father Forgive’ inscribed on the sanctuary wall. A local priest, the Revd Arthur Wales, made a second cross from three mediaeval nails. The Cross of Nails has become the symbol of Coventry Cathedral’s ministry of reconciliation.
The decision to rebuild the cathedral was not an act of defiance, but a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world. The vision of the Provost, the Very Revd Richard Howard, led the people of Coventry away from feelings of bitterness and hatred, and the cathedral developed its Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation which has spread throughout the world.
Queen Elizabeth laid the foundation stone in 1956 and the new cathedral was consecrated on 25 May 1962. The ruins of the old cathedral remain hallowed ground and together the two create one living cathedral.
The new cathedral designed by Sir Basil Spence (1907-1976) is one of the great iconic architectural works of art of the 20th century, and in a national poll on the 1990s Coventry Cathedral was chosen as Britain’s favourite 20th century building.
But if the new cathedral stands as an integral work of architectural art on its own, it also contains many outstanding individual works of art. Large artworks commissioned by Spence include the stained glass baptistery window by John Piper, the bronze sculpture of Saint Michael by Jacob Epstein, the large tapestry behind the main altar by Graham Sutherland, and the Great West Window or ‘Screen of Saints and Angels,’ engraved directly onto the screen in expressionist style by John Hutton.
Inside the cathedral, the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, the Baptistery and the Chapel of Unity, although physically attached to the new Cathedral, unique spaces stand apart as important works of art and architecture.
The main body of the cathedral is built of red sandstone. Projecting out are the circular Chapel of Unity and the Chapel of Industry. Zigzag walls let angled windows, designed by by Lawrence Lee, Keith New and Geoffrey Clarke, direct light down the nave towards the High Altar.
The Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane is approached by following the aisle from the Baptistery window towards the altar with Graham Sutherland’s majestic tapestry of Christ above. The intimacy of this chapel is in stark contrast with the size and majesty of the cathedral nave and the High Altar.
Canon Adrian Daffern, in a Lenten sermon in Coventry Cathedral in 2010, spoke of the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane as “my favourite part of the Cathedral.” But he asked people to stop calling it “the Gethsemane Chapel” for short … “It is the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane.”
This Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane is a beautiful and serene place within the cathedral, and offers a place of prayer for those who wish to withdraw from the focal point of the cathedral.
The chapel is first glimpsed through a screen in the shape of Christ’s Crown of Thorns. This screen of the Crown of Thorns was designed by Basil Spence and made in wrought iron by the Royal Engineers.
Through this circular crown, we see the small chapel with the angel who offers the cup of suffering to Christ as he prayed and a separate panel showing the sleeping disciples.
The chapel is the best-known work by Steven Sykes (1914-1999), a war veteran and war artist who taught at the Chelsea School of Art. Sykes was invited to contribute to the cathedral by Basil Spence, who had also been a camouflage officer in World War II.
The figure of the angel – which has been described by Niklaus Pevsner and Alexandra Wedgwood, as “consciously Byzantine” – and the panel of the sleeping disciples by Steven Sykes are modelled like his pottery figures in reverse relief, but then cast in concrete. The background is covered in gold leaf and blue tesserae, forming a mosaic.
In her obituary of Steven Sykes in The Independent in 1999, Tanya Harrod said “the result was dazzling.”
The Garden of Gethsemane is on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, and the name Gethsemane probably means an oil-press, a place where precious olives have the life squeezed out of them to produce that most versatile and healing of oils. This chapel in Coventry Cathedral is a reminder of suffering and healing in the midst of an overall impression of triumph and light.
Tomorrow: ‘Oia’ by Manolis Sivridakis.