19 February 2015

‘Lent as seen through the Movies’:
briefing notes for ‘Tom & Viv’

Patrick Comerford

This year [2015] marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the great Anglican poet TS Eliot on 4 January 1965, and the one-hundredth anniversary of his marriage to his first wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood on 26 June 1915.

Brian Gilbert’s 1994 movie Tom & Viv, which we are watching in this series next week [26 February 2015], tells the story of their turbulent relationship. They were married after a brief courtship, and they separated in 1933. But they never divorced, and it was only after Vivienne’s death in 1947 that Eliot married his second wife, Valerie Fletcher (1926-2012).

The film is based on a 1984 play of the same name by the British playwright Michael Hastings, and was adapted as a screenplay by Adrian Hodges.

The film stars Willem Dafoe (TS Eliot), Miranda Richardson (Vivienne Haigh-Wood), Rosemary Harris (Rose Haigh-Wood), Tim Dutton (Maurice Haigh-Wood) and Nickolas Grace (Bertrand Russell). It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Miranda Richardson) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Rosemary Harris).

Tom & Viv tells the story of a volatile marriage that was marked by what is ultimately a misdiagnosis of Vivienne as clinically insane. The film revolves not so much around its plot as it does the constant, highly-emoted turns taken among its characters.

TS Eliot (1888-1965) and Vivienne Haigh-Wood (1888-1947) met in rooms in Magdalen College, Oxford, and were married 100 years ago on 26 June 1915, at Hampstead Register Office, London. She was the daughter of Charles Haigh-Wood (Philip Locke), whose mother, Mary Haigh, came from Dublin and inherited seven semi-detached houses in Dún Laoghaire (Kingstown) that gave the family financial stability.

The film is limited to the years of the marriage, from a meeting at Oxford in 1915 until her death in 1947, a span that includes his writing of his best-known poem ‘The Waste Land.’

Their marriage is presented as a series of erratic, embarrassing outbursts on Vivienne’s part, but the film also captures the allure of the life to which Eliot aspired. He travels from the stateliness of Oxford to the country house of the Haigh-Wood family, with its dark wood walls and formal gardens. The Haigh-Wood family and its social standing evoke more passion from Eliot than his wife ever did.

One evening, when her medicine is failing to help, Vivien refers to their friend Bertrand Russell in a loud voice: “Bertie wants to go to bed with me. Did you know that, Tom?” Her mother (Rosemary Harris), with helpless concern, quickly ushers her from the dining room.

No 24 Russell Square, London, where TS Eliot worked for Faber and Faber, is now part of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

She follows Eliot to work at the offices of Faber and Gwyer (later Faber and Faber) at No 24 Russell Square in Bloomsbury and – denied access – she pours hot chocolate into his letter box. His second wife, Valerie, later dismissed the veracity of this episode. She said the doors at Faber were always open and there was never a problem about walking in.

Yet, in this movie, Vivienne ultimately becomes a sympathetic character, a woman misunderstood by medical science and disparaged by her culture. It may have appeared to Eliot and to her family that her behaviour was due to her desire to stake some claim on her husband’s poetic success. But long after she is committed to an asylum, it is discovered that a hormonal imbalance is responsible for her psychiatric instability.

One of the key scenes in Tom & Viv shows a spry and sane Vivienne being asked to solve two difficult logical puzzles. Tom is present during the interrogation. Viv gets one of the answers wrong and is declared insane. A few days later, with his implied consent or acquiescence, she is dragged brutally out of a café (where she has been calmly taking a toast and tea with her friend Louise Purdon) and hauled off in a van.

The makers of Tom & Viv claim it is a “truly passionate, tragic and wonderful story about an extraordinary couple who found great love but couldn’t handle it.” They say it enhances TS Eliot’s reputation by showing how his art grew directly out of his life.

The suffering this couple endured in their marriage undoubtedly contributed to the inspiration of ‘The Waste Land.’ But the film does not suggest this. Instead, Vivienne says “I am his mind” and it claims that not only that she gave him the title ‘The Waste Land’ but that she wrote parts of it too. Indeed, Michael Hastings says one cannot tell the difference between their handwriting on ‘The Waste Land.’

The film has sparked many allegations about Eliot:

1, That he took the credit for writing poetry, notably parts of ‘The Waste Land,’ that were written by Vivienne.
2, That he betrayed his deep love for Vivienne (and his muse) in his eagerness to become a member of the British literary and religious establishment.
3, That he was cold, ruthless and self-absorbed.
4, That he got hold of Vivienne’s money by becoming an executor of her father’s estate.
5, That he incarcerated Vivienne in a mental institution when she was in sound mental health, cruelly refused to visit her, and – while he went on to enjoy world renown – allowed her to languish there for nine years until, cheated and neglected, she died of heart failure at 58.

It appears Eliot continued to care about Vivienne after her breakdown or the breakdown of their marriage. During World War II, he wondered if she should be moved to Brighton or somewhere, with a private nurse, in case of being bombed. But why did he never visit her?

Is there any basis for the chocolate story? It is said that liked vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce. One day he was eating it in a restaurant once when a man opposite said: “I can’t understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.” With hardly a pause, Eliot retorted: “Ah, but you’re not a poet” … and continued on eating.

Contrary to the depiction of his character in the movie, Vivienne’s brother, Maurice Haigh-Wood, wrote a moving letter he wrote from the trenches in 1917 in the spirit of Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon. Her father, far from being a despised philistine, was a painter; her mother never reproached Eliot for his treatment of her daughter. Nor did Vivienne resist his going into banking, resent his conversion, or batter at the doors during his baptism and confirmation in 1927.

There are other emphasises that critics see as distortions in the movie. For example, it dramatises the honeymoon in Eastbourne in 1915, but Eliot’s mentor Ezra Pound makes no appearance in the film.

In this film, there is no depiction of the second marriage between TS Eliot and Valerie Fletcher. They married on 10 January 1957, 10 years to the month after Vivienne’s death. This second marriage had only eight years to run. He was plagued by emphysema, and he died on 4 January 1965, at 76. Valerie, then 38, was his literary executor. On the advice of Faber, she gave permission to the makers of Tom & Viv to quote from his poetry.

Valerie Eliot gave her life to protecting his memory and the copyright of his work. As a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Valerie experienced a ‘revelation’ on hearing John Gielgud read ‘Journey of the Magi.’ But she had read Murder in the Cathedral even before hearing Gielgud’s recording, and later sought out the rest of Eliot’s work. At 18, she resolved to work for Eliot. At 22, she became his secretary. At 30, she married him, when he was 68. At 38 she became his widow and his executor.

The greatest distress caused for Eliot’s widow was the thought of a public who do not know TS Eliot’s poetry, or who might be turned off it by Tom & Viv.

Some questions

Was Michael Hastings inspired by a throwaway remark by Edith Sitwell (Linda Spurrier), that “at some point in their marriage Tom went mad and promptly certified his wife”?

Hastings claims that Eliot “Stalinised” Vivienne. In his own entry in Who’s Who, Hastings does not name his first own wife and states baldly: “one d[aughter] by previous m[arriage].” Was he drawn to this by something in his own past?

Did Eliot have relationships with two other women, Mary Trevelyan and Emily Hale? Should the movie ask whether these are just two people who should never have married? Should they each have married someone else?

Is Eliot’s self-pity hinted at by the reproduction of ‘The Martyrdom of St Sebastian’ that hangs over his desk?

Eliot tells a roomful of admirers that “poetry is not an expression of emotion, but an escape from emotion.”

How important to you is poetry in conveying truth that cannot be conveyed in narrative discourse?

Tom and Viv:

Directed by Brian Gilbert.
Screenplay by Michael Hastings and Adrian Hodges.
Based on: Tom & Viv by Michael Hastings.
Music by: Debbie Wiseman.
Cinematography: Martin Fuhrer.
Distributors: Miramax Films.
Release date: 2 December 1994.
Running time: 115 minutes.


Willem Dafoe: TS Eliot
Miranda Richardson: Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot
Rosemary Harris: Rose Haigh-Wood
Tim Dutton: Maurice Haigh-Wood
Nickolas Grace: Bertrand Russell
Geoffrey Bayldon: Harwent
Clare Holman: Louise Purdon
Philip Locke: Charles Haigh-Wood
Joanna McCallum: Virginia Woolf
Joseph O’Conor: Bishop of Oxford
John Savident: Sir Frederick Lamb
Michael Attwell: WI Janes
Sharon Bower: Secretary
Linda Spurrier: Edith Sitwell
Roberta Taylor: Ottoline Morrell
Christopher Baines: Verger
Anna Chancellor: Woman

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These briefing notes were prepared as part of the programme, ‘Lent as seen through the Movies,’ organised by the Lay Training Department at CITI.

‘Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.’

Sunset at Skerries Harbour ... the venue for the Ash Wednesday retreat (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

19 February 2015

5 p.m., Choral Evensong

Readings: Psalm 25; Daniel 9: 1-14; I John 1: 3-10.

This week, there are two themes running through our chapel services:

1, The Spirituality of Movies: I began speaking about this on Monday morning, and this theme continues this evening, with the beginning of Lenten programme of Movies organised by David Browne for the Lay Training programme;

2, Lent: we began Lent with our Ash Wednesday retreat in Skerries yesterday, and from now until Easter we shall be praying the Lenten Collect in Chapel each day, and muting the doxology at the end of Psalms and Canticles, and no longer saying or singing Gloria.

But I want to draw those two themes together at Evening Prayer this evening.

Later this evening, I am handing out briefing notes for next week’s movie, which is Tom & Viv, the story of the fraught an turbulent marriage of TS Eliot and his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood.

They were married 100 years ago, in 1915, and he died 50 years ago, on 4 January 1965. And apart from her health, physical and psychiatric, one of the contributors to the breakdown of their marriage, according to this movie, is Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism in 1927, 12 years after the marriage.

It is a controversial argument, one that most of the critics and reviewers did not accept, and perhaps one that we shall discuss next week after viewing the movie.

The movie also argues, contentiously, that Viv was Eliot’s muse when it came to writing ‘The Waste Land.’

But Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism, which was followed immediately by baptism and confirmation, inspired some of his greatest poems, including ‘Journey of the Magi’ and ‘A Song for Simeon,’ as well as what is regarded as his conversion poem, ‘Ash Wednesday.’ This poem has been described as “the greatest achievement of Eliot’s poetry.”

This poem was published in its complete form 1930, three years after his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927 and it appears in his Selected Poems before his other first Christian works, the ‘Ariel Poems,’ including ‘Journey of the Magi’ (1927) and ‘A Song for Simeon’ (1928).

Eliot was baptised by the Revd William Force Stead (1884-1967) in Holy Trinity Church, Finstock, a small and locked village church outside Witney, on 29 June 1927. Stead was a fellow American, a poet and the chaplain of Worcester College, Oxford. It was Stead who first encouraged Eliot to read the poems of George Herbert and John Donne and the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes. A day later, Stead brought Eliot for confirmation in his private chapel by the Bishop of Oxford, Thomas Banks Strong, a former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

The complete form of ‘Ash Wednesday’ was first published in April 1930, but three of the five sections had already been published earlier as separate poems between 1927 and 1929.

The poem deals with the struggle that ensues when one who has lacked faith in the past strives to move towards God.

‘Ash Wednesday’ is richly but ambiguously allusive and deals with the aspiration to move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation. The poem is concerned with personal salvation in an age of uncertainty, where the weariness of giving up to a creed weighs heavily on the speaker:

(Why should the agéd eagle stretch its wings?)
“Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Eliot’s journey to Christianity was along a long and winding path. Yet this poem, which is not so much about God as a prayer to God, displays a great spiritual maturity in a relatively new convert.

‘Ash Wednesday’ constitutes the greatest leap in Eliot’s verse and life and the greatest pause in his poetic writings before the hiatus between his plays and The Four Quartets.

In ‘Ash Wednesday,’ Eliot’s poetic persona has somehow found the courage, through spiritual exhaustion, to seek faith. That faith demands complete submission, including the admission that faith must ultimately come from without because what is within has been exhausted. ‘Ash Wednesday’ admits powerlessness as a prelude to, or a requirement for, salvation.

Yet if ‘Ash Wednesday’ is about penitence, it is also about repentance. The opening lines, taken from Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXIX, use the verb “turn” three times. “Turn” echoes the Greek word for repentance, μετάνοια (metanoia), literally “changing one’s mind” – as the prophets called on Israel to “turn back, turn from your wicked ways.”

‘Ash Wednesday’ forms a personal liturgy. It is a song of death and hoped-for rebirth, a song of hope while doubting hope, a song of faith while seeking faith, a song of love for one who has known little love, a prayer for mercy that acknowledges mercy as undeserved.

The stairs in the turret in Holy Cross Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Most readers are familiar with Eliot’s references to the stairs in ‘Ash Wednesday,’ which recall his life-long preoccupation with Dante, who, in Purgatorio, has seven ascending stairs that encircle Purgatory.

Part I of ‘Ash Wednesday,’ ‘Perch’io non Spero’ (Because I do not hope), was first published in the Spring 1928 issue of Commerce along with a French translation. It draws on a 14th century poem by Guido Cavalcanti, and a versicle prior to the Mass on Ash Wednesday: “Deus tu converses vivificabis nos” (“Lord, thou wilt turn again and quicken us”). It also draws on one of the traditional readings in The Book of Common Prayer for Ash Wednesday (Joel 2: 12-17), which urges a turning – and a re-turning – to God: “Turn ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning …turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2: 12, 13).

Part I of ‘Ash Wednesday’ is composed of five stanzas with a couplet from the Anglican liturgy at the end. Each stanza calls for a different renunciation.

The first is renunciation of hope, hope in this world for past diversions that might threaten his new-found faith.

The eagle may be the eagle that represents Saint John the Divine in iconography – the Prologue of his Gospel later punctuates Part V.

Stanza 2 renounces the hope of fulfilment in this world, acknowledging that the “positive hour” of the “one veritable transitory power” is evanescent, thus the seemingly timeless moment of bliss or power in this existence is no longer a hope.

In Stanza 3, he rejoices in his own helplessness to change human condition, and so renounces the blessed face of this world and the voice of temptation within it.

If this sounds self-centred, then in Stanza 4 he defines what this entails: “And pray to God to have mercy upon us.” There is no going back.

Stanza 5 recalls the imagery of Stanza 1:

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air.

Then comes a direct appeal to God:

Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

The concluding couplet reminds us that now and the hour of our death are really the same, and the pilgrim again asks for mercy.

Throughout the poem Eliot quotes from Dante, the canticle Magnificat, the prologue of Saint John’s Gospel, the Prophet Micah, the Reproaches, and The Book of Common Prayer.

‘At the first turning of the second stair’ ... the stairs to my rooms in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge some years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ash Wednesday, TS Eliot


Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain

Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

Concluding Hymn:

‘The place of solitude where three dreams cross / Between blue rocks …’ … blue waters and small boats in front of Skerries Sailing Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Eliot’s second wife, Valerie Fletcher does not feature in the movie at all, and was offended by the way her husband was portrayed. But in a light moment she once recalled that when he was interviewing her for a job as his secretary, they spent much of the time talking about the poetry of George Herbert.

So our concluding hymn this evening is a poem by George Herbert set to an arrangement by William Sandys, ‘Teach me my God and King’ (Hymn 601).

This reflection was shared at Choral Evensong in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute on 19 February 2015.

Living with the rhythm of life and
the rhythm of the Church Calendar

Skerries Sailing Club and Harbour during the Ash Wednesday retreat yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015

Patrick Comerford

Readings: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20; Psalm 1; Luke 9: 22-25.

May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

We mark Ash Wednesday here in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute each year with a retreat.

We go away for a full day of prayer, guided reflection and silence. We begin with the Liturgy of the Word, followed by an opportunity for the imposition of ashes. The day concludes with the Liturgy of the Sacrament.

Yesterday, we had our Ash Wednesday retreat in Skerries, where we were guided though the day by the Revd Garth Bunting of Christ Church Cathedral.

We spent most of the day in Skerries Sailing Club, with views out across the Harbour and down onto the two beaches with which Skerries is blessed, and ended with our celebration of the Eucharist in Holmpatrick Church.

For some of you, I imagine, this may sound like luxury, some sort of spiritual luxury. Where you might ask, was there any challenge to deny ourselves and take up the cross?

But for many of the students, a day like this is a real challenge. Not just the imposition of ashes, which is a challenge to some who have no inherited memory of this practice. But because this is a day that they begin thinking of as a day they cannot give up: they have essays and assignments to complete; they have reading, research and portfolios to finish; they have dissertation proposals that need refining and redefining.

But they put away these anxieties aside, they let themselves go. What would it profit them if they had gained full marks but lost this opportunity in their spiritual formation and growth?

And, in the tradition, of the Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday was also marked as a Prayer Book “Day of Discipline and Self-Denial.” Vegetarian sandwiches, no pre-dinner reception when we got back, and no meat for dinner – easy for me as a vegetarian, but a reminder to some of traditions that are deeply rooted in Anglicanism.

They learned many things that I hope become practice and experience in parishes in the Church of Ireland in future generations.

But how many of us can say that this was the experience in many parishes in the Church of Ireland yesterday, on Ash Wednesday?

The calendar of the Church of Ireland this year allows us to use to readings for Epiphany [6 January] on the Sunday before [4 January], and for the Presentation [2 February] on the Sunday before [1 January]. We have not yet come to transferring the Ascension Day readings to the next available Sunday, but there is one parish in this diocese which already has the reputation of not celebrating Christmas Day but of moving to the following Sunday.

What next: move Ash Wednesday to the next available Sunday? Move Good Friday to the next available Sunday – if convenient?

What happens if we lose the rhythm of the Church Calendar? The Church Year is punctuated by rhythms, such as the rhythm of weeks and a rhythm of 40 days: the 40 days from Christmas to Candlemas, the 40 days of Lent, and the 40 days of Easter.

Do we give this up for the sake of the everyday secular life and its cycle of demands? Do we end up serving money and the market, rather than money and the market serving the needs of creation?

Christ asks us in our Gospel reading today: ‘What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?’

It is a question worth asking ourselves throughout this Lent.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

Almighty God,
you have given your only Son to be for us
both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life:
Give us grace
that we may always most thankfully receive
these his inestimable gifts,
and also daily endeavour ourselves
to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This reflection was shared at the Eucharist celebrated with the Irish Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute on 19 February 2015.

Anglican Studies (2014-2015) 6.2: The Good Friday Agreement
and its consequences: a reflection on the ‘Hard Gospel’ Project

Drumcree Parish Church ... is this the image of the Church of Ireland that many have around the world?

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 19 February 2015, 10.30 a.m.:

The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and its consequences: a reflection on the Hard Gospel Project



The Church of Ireland has been a polite church. Since disestablishment, we have been a Church that has found it difficult to relate prophetically to the wider political culture, and even to the wider culture itself.

Reconciliation means being reconciled to God and reconciled to one another.

But “how reconciled” are we with one another?

To what degree do we need to be reconciled with ourselves:

Reconciled with our past:

Franz Kafka Café in Prague … “a people without a past are a people without a name”

One of the symptoms of a dysfunctional family is shown when those who have been hurt in the past try to deal with those hurts in the present and are told by other members of the family that they would be better off to forgive and to forget.

But it is impossible to do both, to forgive and to forget. Unless we remember, we cannot reconcile ourselves with the past. And failing to remember the past creates a dysfunctional identity in the present, which leaves us, therefore, with no possibility of moving forward, honestly and equipped, into the future.

The Czech writer, Milan Kundera, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, offers a series of reflections on the importance of memory as the root from which the self-understanding of their identities by individuals and groups emerges. In one of the essays in his book, Kundera analyses the writings of Franz Kafka and comments:

Prague in his novels is a city without memory. It has even forgotten its name. Nobody there remembers anything, nobody recalls anything … No song is capable of uniting the city’s present with its past by recalling the moments of its birth.

Time in Kafka’s novel is the time of humanity that has lost its continuity with humanity, of a humanity that no longer knows anything nor remembers anything, that lives in nameless cities with nameless streets or streets different from the ones they had yesterday, because a name means continuity with the past and people without a past are people without a name.

In his essay, Milan Kundera explores the theme in relation to the way in which an attempt had been made by the state authorities to change the awareness of the identity of the Czech people since the end of World War II. An attempt has been made to erase the nation’s memory, and through this the identity of the people has been eroded.

As Kundera notes, when he quotes his friend Milan Hubi approvingly:

The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory.

The culture, traditions, songs, religious commitment, political ideas embodied above all in the literature and the poetry of the community are important vehicles communicating and challenging the identity of the society.

But in many instances, in the Church of Ireland, we have forgotten the culture, tradition, songs, commitment, politics, literature and poetry of the community of which we are part. And by erasing that memory of the past we have found ourselves stumbling around in the dark of the present, with road signs or street names to help us find our place.

In the past, there has been such a separation between Catholic and Protestant culture in Ireland that it has been a deep chasm that is reflected in cultural and even in everyday life until quite recently.

The tower of Saint Columba’s Church, Colpe, near Drogheda, closed since 1996 … are there Protestant bats and Catholic bats in the belfries? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I do not know how extensive the problem of bats in the belfry is for your parish. But there are two principal bat species in Ireland: now one type of bat favours attics and the other favours more open spaces. But in church ruins in Ireland, there is a preponderance of attics in the ruined Church of Ireland parish churches, so that there was a rumour recently that Irish bats were divided on sectarian grounds: Protestant bats and Catholic bats.

But culturally there has been a big divide between Protestants and Catholics even on the playing fields: rugby was essentially a Protestant game, played in Protestant schools, to which middle class Catholics were invited under sufferance. While Gaelic football and hurling were almost exclusively Catholic – well, those were the perceptions. The Irish language was perceived – on both sides – as being the preserve of Catholics, and of Republic Nationalist Catholics at that: and this despite the fact that the first book printed in Irish was The Book of Common Prayer, that the first President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, a Rector’s son, was a Professor of Irish and one of the key figures in the modern revival of the Irish language.

There were different perceptions of what to expect on each other’s farms, in each other’s homes, how each other set standards as employers and employees. A Russian diplomat who had been posted in Dublin many years ago returned to Moscow and wrote about his perceptions of Ireland. He claimed he could know whether he was at a dinner party in a Catholic or a Protestant household: Catholics arrived late and left late, Protestants arrived early and left early.

But this cultural chasm, this gap that reinforced behavioural patterns, has also deprived us as a Church of finding easy opportunities to be reconciled with our past, with our present, and with our future.

Connecting with the Past:

The present reflected in the past … the lights of Main Street shops seen in the windows of Saint Iberius Church, Wexford. But we are often unaware of the great stories of the Celtic saints who founded and built up the church in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are many things in the past that I cannot be reconciled with. As Archbishop Rowan Williams reminded the Lambeth Conference in 1998, it is very hard for us to accept that we are members of the Body of Christ when we consider that the body includes people in the past who waged crusades, who carried out the Inquisition, who linked mission and colonialism. But they are dead, and they remain part of the Body of Christ, of the one Church I confess as part of the confession of faith each week. I can do nothing to excommunicate them now. I must accept that I will be reconciled with the past, including the ugly past, in Christ’s own plan for the future.

Not being reconciled with our past has deprived many of the Church of Ireland of the great riches our neighbouring churches find it easier to claim.

A few years ago, we had a visit here from the House of Bishops of the Church in Wales. Back in the 1990s, while I was at a course in the College of the Ascension in Birmingham, a group of Welsh ordinands who realised I was testing my own vocation to ordained ministry, presented me with a small book on Celtic spirituality. It was a kind and generous gesture. But our failure to reconcile ourselves with the past has made Celtic Spirituality in Ireland something for “them” rather than “us”. And that has deprived “us” of so many riches.

We are unaware of the great stories of the Celtic saints who founded and built up the church in Ireland. We are unable to understand the wonders of the great, carved high crosses that speckle the Irish countryside. We are unable to understand the significance and the spirituality that lay behind the founding of many of our cathedrals and parish churches.

In many Irish towns and villages, it is virtually certain that the Roman Catholic parish church will have a name like Our Lady of the Rosary, or Our Lady Queen of Peace … But, invariably, Church of Ireland Cathedrals and parish churches stand on the original monastic site in a town or village, and carry the name of the founding saints, names that are often unpronounceable for the tongues of semi-Anglo-Saxon Church of Ireland parishioners. And if they do not know how to pronounce those names, we know less about the monks and abbots who bore them: Saint Flannan, Saint Carthage, Saint Colman, Saint Finn Barre, Saint Fachtna, Saint Laserian ...

It deprives us of some of the wealth and the insights of the founding fathers and the founding mothers of Irish Christianity. The cathedral in Kildare, a small market town 50 km south-west of Dublin, is dedicated to Saint Brigid, one of the three patron saints of Ireland and a woman who was abbot of a mixed community of men and women. During the debate on the ordination of women in the Church of Ireland, I cannot recall one reference to Brigid as one of the apostles of Ireland, nor any reference to the popular mediaeval depiction of Brigid as a mitred abbot.

Tallaght’s mediaeval tower and the pinnacles of Saint Maelruain’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For many years, I worked in Tallaght parish on the margins of Dublin. Externally, this is a marginalised, urban deprived area. A large shopping centre and dull drab housing make up a city that does not even have its own council or mayor, yet it is big enough to be Ireland’s third city.

The Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Maelruain’s, stands on one of the earliest monastic sites in Ireland, associated with the Ceilí Dé movement, an early reform movement in the Celtic Church, and such a centre of learning that it was once known as one of the “Eyes of Ireland”.

In the early 19th century, the last remaining monastic buildings were demolished to provide building rubble to erect a new parish church. Memory was erased, was bulldozed.

The end of the Luas Red line at The Square in Tallaght … a city where memory has been erased (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today in a dormitory city, where people feel they have no roots and where they have no sense of continuity, the only common focus is a pyramid-shaped shopping centre known as “The Square.” If only the church had retained its memory, those people could have found a sense of identity, a sense of rootedness, in a centre of prayer and worship that dates back through the centuries, and that should be giving them hope for the future.

If we are not aware of the stories of our past, if we are not aware of the riches of the iconography of our saints from the past, then we have been truly impoverished – but not for the sake of the Gospel.

The attitude that Celtic Spirituality is “something for them rather than us” is dangerous: in other ways too. If we leave it aside, then we abandon it to quacks and those with fertile religious imaginations; but also fail too to tap into one of the spiritual vocabularies used by thinking and questioning people today; and we fail therefore to understand their agenda and their questions on faith topics. And that is a failure in mission too.

In addition, we are unable to understand how hurt in the past lives in memories, even unarticulated memories, and has shaped attitudes to us today.

In recent years, there has been a series of scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland: allegations of sexual abuse, the physical abuse of children in homes run by religious orders, the tales of a bishop and his secret mistress …

But we have forgotten that each one of these controversies dogged the Church of Ireland in previous generations, along with rectors who were flogging and hanging magistrates and bishops caught in scandalous positions with naked sailors in London taverns.

But there was worse: as we have seen in our survey of the history of the Church of Ireland, for generations the bench of bishops of the Church of Ireland provided the working majority of the Irish House of Lord, where on their own initiation, they pushed through iniquitous laws aimed against Roman Catholics and remembered to this day as the Penal Laws. Invariably, until the Act of Union was passed in 1800, two out of three of the highest offices of state in Dublin were held by members of the House of Bishops.

Over the past 200 years or more, the Orange Order has been seen one of the strongest vehicles for perpetuating sectarianism on this island. Admittedly, in many parishes, the Orange Order is a benign and benevolent, organisation. Its older members regard it as merely quaint that Roman Catholics are excluded, in the same quaint way that “ladies” are excluded from membership. But so too in the past Presbyterians were excluded from membership. We have allowed ourselves to forget that this organisation was formed firstly to protect the interests of the Church of Ireland as the established church, at a time when the prelates and the landed aristocracy combined to form what was known as the “Protestant Ascendancy”.

Transition from past to present

Fear of the past, and clinging on to the memories of past fears, also immobilise us in the transition from the past to the present.

Fear that innovation or moving towards ownership of the insights of modern liturgical thinking will deprive us of our identity and make “us” more like “them”.

A few examples:

An increasing number of parishes are being amalgamated, so that often we have one rector or parish priest serving six or seven churches. It is impossible for one rector to visit all of these churches on a Sunday morning. But when someone suggests a Saturday evening liturgy – and Roman Catholics have long had Saturday evening Mass – the main objection is likely to be unuttered but thought in terms of: “They do it, so we should not.”

This attitude deprives people of the opportunities to worship at the weekend and to have their rector stay long enough at the church door afterwards to give them pastoral attention and a listening ear, instead of racing off like Michael Schumann to the next ecclesiastical pit-stop.

This attitude deprives people of an opportunity to have regular sacramental ministry.

This attitude deprives them of sharing the same worshipping experiences as their neighbours, because if we cannot worship together then at least if we can worship at the same time as a community it can engender an amazing sense of a shared worship life in small towns and villages.

Our fear of the liturgical movement and liturgy innovation has left us afraid not just of bells and smells, but of candles and icons, of the healing ministry, of aural confession, of our priests wearing our Sunday best on Sundays.

The Present:

The Cross of Nails in Coventry Cathedral … the use of the word reconciliation in the Irish context was probably inspired by Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The beginning of the story of reconciliation in Ireland is a little bit more difficult to trace.

As the violent clashes in Northern Ireland unfolded in the wake of the failure of the civil rights marches of the 1960s, there were a number of efforts to try to form peace movements, some of them sad failures, some of them sad constructions in themselves.

Sad failures would include that beautiful but ineffective movement, “What Price Peace?” that arose from a lone vigil by a bereaved Church of Ireland priest, the Revd Joe Parker.

Sad constructions included movements like PACE, Protestant and Catholic Encounter, which brought middle class people together for morning coffee and afternoon tea, and wondered why there couldn’t be reconciliation without first exposing the wounds of the past to the light of the sun so that they could be healed. Can there be any real reconciliation without a healing of memories?

The use of the word reconciliation was probably inspired by Coventry Cathedral. But there the word reconciliation had been adopted by the bombed, by the victims. Is it wrong for the demand for reconciliation to be first made, without facing up to the hurt of past injustices?

At a meeting of peace groups from across Ireland, I once raised the issue of nuclear weapons, and the move to deploy a new generation of nuclear weaponry, Cruise and Pershing Missiles, in Europe. I was sternly told by a group of Belfast women that the nuclear arms race had nothing to do with the “peace movement” and I was publicly berated by one clergyman at the meeting who accused me of not being interested in reconciliation, of, yes, being a Communist.

Reconciliation was all right if you were going to bring back investment to Belfast. But we dare not talk about reconciliation in terms that challenged the rhetoric of the Cold War. Needless to say, we have moved on since then.

The Irish School of Ecumenics was founded at Milltown Park, Dublin, by Father Michael Hurley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It may emerge in time that we will agree that real reconciliation in Ireland, as far as the churches are concerned, can be traced back not to the morning coffee and afternoon tea gatherings in South Belfast, but to the pioneering work of the Jesuit, the late Father Michael Hurley, and his friends who established the Irish School of Ecumenics.

In coming to terms with the present, in reconciling our religious traditions and cultures, and in reconciling those of us who live in the present with the ugly heritage and memories of the past, the Church of Ireland has eventually been involved in a three-stage process.

1, Reconciling of Memories: In 1987, the Irish School of Ecumenics undertook a programme of study and reflection on the subject of Reconciliation of Memories. In the course of this programme, theologians, historians, philosophers, political scientists and literary critics were invited to contribute to the examination of those situations where “all could not be forgiven because all had not been forgotten.”

2, Moving beyond Sectarianism: This programme was followed by the Irish School of Ecumenics with a programme called “Moving Beyond Sectarianism”, a six-year research project focussing on the role of Christian religion in sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Instead of demonising the more violent, bigoted and overt expressions of sectarianism, the project chose instead to highlight the subtle, polite and understated expressions of sectarianism. This form of sectarianism seems innocuous but serves as an essential underpinning for the ethos of antagonised division that allows the more blatant expressions to flourish. It pointed the finger at each and every one of us – we were all to blame, and we all needed to take responsibility if we were going to move beyond sectarianism and bring about real, lasting reconciliation.

3, The Hard Gospel: The next stage came the Church of Ireland took the challenges of these projects seriously and we started to own them for ourselves so that the process took on a new dynamic. The General Synod established a Sectarianism Education Programme, and commissioned a scooping study, The Hard Gospel, which did not have to dig too deep to find out how deeply rooted sectarian attitudes and values were throughout the Church of Ireland.

But we all know reports are not the end. So often we are used to reports being received by General Synods, and that is it. In this instance though, the report was handed down to Diocesan Synods, where it was discussed, in most cases, not as part of the normal business that has to be rushed through as one of many items on the agenda, but at special sessions, called with only one item on the agenda, The Hard Gospel. And the dioceses have sent the report on the parishes, in the form of study packs, each unit beginning with a Gospel study but then demanding a critical look by the participants – whether they are in parishes north or south of the border – at the barriers and boundaries in their own parishes.

Have we heard all we going to hear, or are we going to hear more about the Hard Gospel in the years ahead?

The Hard Gospel: some questions about its scope and extent:

The process (note the high level of response and engagement in the survey).

How do you feel (in general) about the topics covered?

Should some have been omitted?

Should some have been included?

Section 1:

Defining sectarianism: did you find this difficult?

Church of Ireland identity: do you find this limiting or liberating?

What about its future?

Church Government and structures.

North-South differences.

Ethnic difference and asylum seekers.

Political difference: how political can you be? What do you think of clergy involved in politics?

Theological difference: how comfortable are you with that?

Relationships with other churches and inter-church activity.

World religions.

Peace, sectarianism.

Sectarianism Education Project.

The loyal orders and Drumcree: How do you respond to Drumcree?

Section 2:

Gender differences and sexuality.

Young people

Old people.

Responding to society in general.

Training and resourcing of clergy.

Other issues.

The future:

How can you use the Hard Gospel in a parish?

In a study group?

In a youth group?

What issues missing?

What issues over-emphasised or should not be there (e.g. sexuality)?

We have realised we are only starting to scratch the surface. But itching wounds are wounds that want to heal. We are naming the beasts. They are ugly and they breathe deadly fire. But by naming them we are acquiring the courage to be reconciled not just with the past and the present, but with the future. The problems we have to face in the future are many. They include not only theological differences, but inbred, generations old class values, snobbery, elitism, and indifference.

There are problems for members of the Church of Ireland in Northern Ireland, formed in the old political mould, adjusting to the changes brought about by the Belfast agreement, and facing the future with some trepidation. Bishop Harold Miller of Down and Dromore, speaking in Newtownards at his diocesan synod some years ago, articulated some of these fears on their behalf:

“Here in Northern Ireland, we find ourselves in a time of both great change and of numbed ‘stuckness’. We are uncertain, in our post-traumatic ‘peace’ about whether or not we can find our way through to a complete resolution of our troubles. And we are uncertain about whether the Belfast Agreement can provide the foundation we had hoped for, which would allow a society to develop which would include all, and have the loyalty of all.

“We can critique the ‘Peace and Reconciliation’ model of South Africa, but we do not know how or when we might find our own equivalent but locally applicable way of dealing with our common hurts and memories, and especially with the hurts and memories of victims of the troubles.”

But at least we have made a start. We have begun to own the process of reconciliation. We have named the beasts, now are we prepared to move on and slay them? Are we ready to be reconciled with the past, held in our memories; reconciled with the present; and reconciled with what the future can hold for us as potential as we move forward as a church in mission?

Next week:

26 February 2015: reading week.

Then: 5 March 2015,

7.1: Partition, conflict and peace: the Church of Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries.

7.2: Theologies of reconciliation and the challenges of divided societies (M Volf, R Schreiter, J de Gruchy).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared as a briefing paper for a seminar on 19 February 2015 as part of the MTh Year II course, TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context.

Anglican Studies (2014-2015) 6.1:
Christianity and nationalisms

A Serbian Orthodox Church in Zadar in Croatia after it was the spray-painted with multiple Us for Ustasa, with the Catholic cross in between

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Thursdays: 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon, The Hartin Room.

Thursday, 19 February 2015, 9.30 a.m.:

Anglican Studies (6.1)
Christianity and nationalisms.


Last week ago [12 February 2015], we looked at some of background to and experiences of sectarianism, North and South of the border. Some these were so culturally rooted that it is difficult to challenge them as we live our lives of mission and ministry in the Church. Others, at times, seem to be enshrined in legislation.

Most of us probably react with embarrassment and cringe when we face up to our own intimate experiences of nationalism and identity expressed as Christianity, especially when they relate to our own families, our own parishes, our countries.

How long have you thought that these experiences were unique?

Part of the cause of social embarrassment is being over self-aware, and feeling that few if any share the same experience. Shame goes hand-in-hand with public exposure.

How often have you asked yourself questions like:

● Why is this happening in my parish/diocese?
● How often have you been exasperated, wondering do things like this happen only in Ireland?
● Only in Northern Ireland?
● Only in the Republic of Ireland?
● Only in the Church of Ireland?

This afternoon, I would like us to discuss the conflict of cultures and the place of religion in conflict, especially looking at the link between Christianity and nationalisms.

This is not only a concern for the Church of Ireland, or for Christianity, or for Ireland, but this is a global concern. We live in a world of conflict in which religion plays a key role.

Have our perceptions of Islam changed after 9/11?


● The way Serbs and Croats were defined as the former Yugoslavia broke up – Serbs were Orthodox and used Cyrillic letters for their shared language, and were dismissed as “Chetniks,” while Croats were Catholics who used Roman letters and were dismissed as “Ustasas.”
● The role of religion in conflict in Iraq;
● The perceptions of Islam following the 9/11 attacks or due to the activities of the self-styled “Islamic State”;
● The response in the Islamic world to George W Bush’s use of the word “crusade”;
● The conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan, and many Gulf states.

How do you think Muslims reacted to George Bush’s use of the word “Crusade?”

Our cultural assumptions about religion frames and is framed by the language we use about conflict.

For example, about 12 years ago (12 October 2002) there was a bombing of a bar in Bali, in which 202 people were killed, including 88 Australian tourists.

Two cultural images were conveyed, two cultural presuppositions were confirmed, in the news coverage of this incident and its aftermath:

1, Bali is an island of peace;
2, Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali has a strong Hindu presence, making it an oasis of peace.

There is something amiss with these two images:

Are there some religions we are culturally conditioned to think of as peaceful?

1, That there are peaceful religions, and there are violent religions. In particular we are culturally disposed towards thinking of Hinduism and Buddhism as religions of peace, and Islam as a religion of violence.

And yet, one of the factors in years of political violence in Sri Lanka – another island that once had the image of being an island haven of peace – is the tension between Buddhists and Hindus, and the Buddhist sangha or monks were among the most vocal critics of any government effort to enter dialogue with the Tamil Tigers.

Indeed, the image of violent Buddhists runs contrary to historical reality. Yet, how many Japanese suicide pilots went to death in World War II chanting praise to Buddha of with the words from the Lotus Sutra, Namyoho Renge Kyo?

Japanese kamikaze pilots waiting for their flights

2, The second image is that those violent religions usually boil down to one religion in particular, that is, Islam.

We have inherited a cultural prejudice that Islam is a religion with an inherent violence built into its thoughts, values and teachings.

Is this image of Hizbullah typical or stereotypical? And how often do we transfer this image to Islam in general

Popular media regularly conveys images of Islam as a religion of institutionalised violence, expressed in judicial sentencing, such as stoning, chopping off hands, and of social violence, typified in how we discuss jihad, suicide car bombers, the attacks on New York, Madrid and London, the wars in the Middle East, the export of violence or the perceived nuclear threat from Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah in Palestine and Lebanon, or Chechen fighters in the former Soviet Union.

Is there a ‘Christendom’? Is there a looming clash of civilisations? Dark blue: Western ‘Christendom’; sky blue: Orthodox ‘Christendom’; green: Islamic world; dark red: Sinic world; purple: Latin America; brown: Sub-Saharan Africa; orange: Hindu world; yellow: Buddhist world; grey: former British colonies; turquoise: Turkey; blue: Israel; light brown: Ethiopia; light green: Haiti; red: Japan

In a paper in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1996 that gave its title to a subsequent book in 1997, Samuel Huntington spoke of a “clash of civilisations” between the Christian or post-Christian world, and the Islamic world.

Until his death in 2008, he continued to speak in terms of a looming “clash of civilisations between Islam and the West.”

Despite the apparent outworking of some of his predictions, there are many faults in the theory of an inevitable “clash of civilisations.” Huntington equated a religion with a civilisation, so that Islam is a unitary political, social and definable “civilisation” that depends on a religion for its understanding and explanation, while Christianity underpins western civilisation, and that Islam made no contribution to Western culture and civilisation.

But there is also a reality that must concern us. Many people associate religion with violence, and with war. For example, Polly Toynbee wrote a commentary in The Guardian in the run-up to the first anniversary of 9/11 (6 September 2002) that was headed: ‘Religion isn’t nice. It kills’.

One of the major criticisms of religion in general, and religions in particular, is the role of religion in violence and conflicts.

In all religions, and we should be aware of it most in Christianity. Awareness allows us to face one of the main criticisms of Christianity from those on the margins, and allows us to have some terms and terminology so we can face the problems of violence in our own areas.

I want us to consider three concepts that have made it difficult to disentangle religion – and Christianity in particular – from politics and nationalism:

● Christendom
● The Crusades
● The Nation State

1, Christendom:

Constantine the Great … the beginning of Christendom?

Christendom is not co-terminal with or another phrase for “the Kingdom of God.” But it has often been misrepresented as such. The term “Christendom” may have several meanings, but it refers in particular to a world view that identifies Christianity with cultural, economic and political expressions of a society that is perceived as being normative for or a standard for the rest of human society.

It is a common perception that the Church was pacifist until the Constantinian settlement, when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313, extending toleration to Christianity. This claim needs objective historical analysis, because it is often argued from a partisan viewpoint. Other questions we need to ask include whether the Church under persecution could consider co-operating with the state in such circumstances, and whether there was a separation of the role of policing and the role of the army?

The earliest use of the terms Christianity (Χριστιανισμός) and Catholic (Καθολικός) is in the writings of Saint Ignatius of Antioch (2nd century). The word Christendom comes from the Latin word Christianus. The Christian world was also known collectively as the Corpus Christianum, often translated as the Christian body, referring to the community of all Christians. The Christian polity, embodying a less secular meaning, has been compared with the idea of both a religious and a temporal body: Corpus Christianum, and at times the Corpus Christianum has been seen as a Christian equivalent of the Muslim Ummah.

In a more political or secular was Christendom has been used as a descriptive term for the “Political Christian World,” as if this had been in the past and might or ought to be now or in the future a cultural hegemony, what we might now refer to as “the West.”

But of course, from where we stand geographically, Christianity began in the East, or at least in the Middle East or the Eastern Mediterranean.

In looking at early church history a few weeks ago, we noticed briefly how Christianity spread through the Classical or Greek and Roman world in the apostolic and then post-apostolic period.

The period of Early Christianity came to a close when the imperial persecution of Christians ends, with the coming to power of Constantine the Great, the Edict of Milan (313), and the First Council of Nicaea (325).

The 4th century palace complex in Thessaloniki … the Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the empire under the Edict of Thessaloniki in 392 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later, Christianity became the state religion of the Empire under the Edict of Thessaloniki in 392 when the Emperor Theodosius I prohibited the practice of pagan religions and the Church gradually became a defining institution of the Empire.

Saint Augustine envisions the City of God

And so, we can see, the Christian attitude to war begins to shift after Constantine and with the writings of Augustine (died 430). Was this good theology, or was it forged in the face of a real threat, with the barbarians at the gates? Augustine wrote The City of God shortly after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. But, even then, is it any less valid a way of formulating theology in the face of the real pressures of life?

After the Barbarian invasions and the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, a new threat was posed to Christianity with the rise of Islam, the Muslim capture of Jerusalem in 638, the arrival of Muslim armies in Europe, and the threat to the New Rome, Constantinople.

As the Empire in the West disintegrated into feudal kingdoms and small states, the concept of Christendom changed as the western church became separate from the Emperor and Christians in the Empire of the East.

In the East, the Byzantine Empire saw itself vas the last bastion of Christendom. Christendom entered a new phase with the rise of the Franks and their conversion to Christianity.

Christendom later refers to the mediaeval and renaissance notions of the Christian world as a socio-political polity. In essence, the earliest vision of Christendom was a vision of a Christian theocracy or a government founded on and upholding Christian values, whose institutions are spread through and over with Christian doctrine.

In this period, the clergy wield political authority. The specific relationship between political leaders and clergy varied. But, in theory, the national and political divisions were often subsumed in the leadership of the Church.

On Christmas Day 800, Pope Leo XIII crowned Charlemagne as the Emperor of what became the Holy Empire.

This empire created an alternative definition of Christendom in contrast to the Byzantine Empire. The question of what constituted true Christendom would then occupy political and religious leaders for generations and centuries to come.

The pontificate of Innocent III is considered the height of temporal power of the papacy. The Corpus Christianum describes the then current notion of the community of all Christians in communion with the Pope – a community guided by Christian values in its politics, economics and social life.

However, in the East, Christendom was seen as co-terminus with the Byzantine Empire, which was gradually loss of territory in the face of the rapid expansion of Islam and the rise of new Persian Empire.

2, The Crusades

The capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade

Until the Great Schism divided the Church religiously, there had been a concept of a universal Christendom that included the East and the West. But this was rocked by the Great Schism and was destroyed by the Fourth Crusade.

The Crusades originated in Western Europe, particularly in the Frankish realms (France) and the Holy Roman Empire. They were proclaimed as a campaign, fought under the Cross, to reclaim control of Jerusalem and the “Holy Land” for “Christendom” and were fought for almost two centuries, between 1095 and 1291. Initially the Crusades were proclaimed for the recovery of Jerusalem and the ‘Holy Land,’ and the protection of pilgrims, but they soon became a ‘holy war’.

In the First Crusade (1095-1099), at the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, Orthodox Christians fought alongside Jewish and Muslim residents to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders, so that many Christians were slaughtered alongside their Muslim neighbours.

Many Muslims sought shelter in al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount area. One Crusader account reports how the Crusaders “were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.”

According to Raymond of Aguilers, “in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.”

Fulcher of Chartres says: “In this temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.”

The Fourth Crusade ended in the sack of Constantinople in 1204

Some of the crusade expeditions were diverted completely from their original aim. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) resulted in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and the partition of the Byzantine Empire between Venice and the Crusaders, and hastened the destruction of Byzantium.

But it was not until the Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) that any Crusade received the official blessing of the Pope.

Dante in his Inferno places Muhammad in the Eighth Circle of Hell as a sower of discord, along with Christian schismatics, while in a frozen lake at the bottom of hell he placed Ganelon, who betrayed Roland and the rear-guard of Charlemagne’s army. In the Fifth Heaven he placed the Crusader King, Godfrey of Bouillon.

Godfrey de Bouillon, leader of the first crusade … placed in a frozen lake at the bottom of hell by Dante

But, writing about the Crusades, Sir Steven Runciman says: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.”

We still use, misuse and abuse the term “Crusade” when we are describing certain campaigns. The Crusades have left far-reaching political, economic, and social legacies that continue to survive in our time.

Colin Chapman says the Crusades “have left a deep scar on the minds of Muslims all over the world. Although they ended more than 700 years ago, for many Muslims it is as if they happened only yesterday. And recent events such as the Rushdie affair, the Gulf War and the Bosnian conflict have made many [Muslims] feel that the Crusades have never ended.”

Later Christendom

Palais des Papes, Avignon … the Western Schism and the Avignon Papacy posed a major crisis of identity for Western Christendom

The Western Church was boosted in its political authority and its perception of a shared boundary with Christendom through the shared experience of the Crusades, the fight against the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula, and against the ottomans in the Balkans. But some of its worst expressions were also found, for example, in the Inquisition, the pogroms directed against Jews, and “crusades” against heretics, such as the Albigenses and the Cathars.

Western Christendom faced a major crisis of identity with the Western Schism and the Avignon Papacy, a split that came to an end only with the Council of Constance. And mediaeval Christendom was also challenged by the reputation of morally lax pontiffs and their dependence on secular rulers, coupled with greed for material wealth and temporal power.

The Reformations and the concurrent rise of independent states gave the term “Christendom” a new, more general, meaning in Western Europe, signifying countries that were predominantly Christian – whether they were Catholic or Protestant – as opposed to Islamic or other countries.

Post-Reformation Roman Catholics the restoration of Christendom and argued that, the term applied to the civilisation of Catholic nations that espoused the doctrine of the Social Reign of Christ the King, and that recognised the Roman Catholic Church.

3, The nation state

The Coliseum seen from the Irish Dominican church at San Clemente. The nation state is a post-16th century concept … the modern Italian state dates from 17 March 1861 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Hundred Years’ War accelerated the process of transforming France from a feudal monarchy to a centralised state. The rise of strong, centralised European monarchies was part of the transition in Europe from feudalism to capitalism and the rise of modernity.

The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 officially ended the idea among secular leaders that all Christians must be united under one church. The principle of cuius regio eius religio (“whoever the king, his the religion”) established the religious, political and geographical divisions of Christianity.

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 ended the concept of a single Christian hegemony. After that, each government determined the religion of its own state, and the wars of religion came to an end.

With the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the concept of the sovereign national state was born. The Corpus Christianum has since existed with the modern idea of a tolerant and diverse society consisting of many different communities.

The nation state, in seeking to define itself, must by definition limit itself. These limitations find a number of expressions, such a language, a constructed culture (including music, poetry, drama, songs, architecture and paintings), and, of course, religion.

Is it possible to imagine the construction of the modern Italian state – proclaimed over 154 years ago on 17 March 1861 – without a shared Italian language, seen as the creation of Dante, and expressed in the operas of Verdi?

Consider how the revival of the Irish language and the popularisation of images such as Round Towers and Celtic High Crosses came at a crucial time in Irish nationalism in the late 19th century.

Germany is a modern nation state without a shared religious identity. Nevertheless, it still resulted in the most profane effort to exclude one religious expression – the Holocaust.

Some contemporary examples of the role of religion in conflict:

“Το παιδομάζωμα” (ή “το σκλαβοπάζαρο”) του Νικολάου Γύζη ... The Levy of Christian Children, by Nicholas Ghyzis

In the creation of the modern Greek state and the modern Turkish state, religion played a key role in the forging of national identities, so that Greek was equated with Orthodox Christian and Turk with Muslim.

The consequences of this reached beyond the generations, after the creation of an independent Cyprus in 1960. The Muslim/Christian dividing line defined the line of advance when the Turks invaded Cyprus in 1974.

Did religion define nationality for Europe nation states?

What role does it play in our understanding and creation of a new European identity?

But this is not solely a European phenomenon. Religious identity has been used to define separate national identities in India and Pakistan. This has created problems for those outside these definitions, including Christians and Sikhs, and the conflict continues between Hindus and Muslims, with violence constantly and continually threatening to inflame border conflicts between Pakistan and India.

Religion has been a factor in many of the conflicts in Europe in the 1990s. As Yugoslavia was breaking up, the labels Catholic and Orthodox were used to distinguish Croat from Serb. When Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo slaughtered, was it because they were Muslims in Bosnia (where they were otherwise like all other Slavs)? Was it because they were Albanians or Muslims in Kosovo?

A Muslim holding the Quran and a Coptic Christian holding a cross are carried through opposition supporters in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the ‘Arab Spring’ protests

In Egypt, many Arabs and Muslims have found it difficult to see Coptic Christians as true Egyptians. On the other hand, the word Copt means Egyptian, and many Christians have seen themselves as the true and authentic Egyptians.

How did you react to the way in which Muslim-Christian unity became one of the themes during the ‘Arab Spring’ protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo some years ago? Do you recall the news scenes where members of the Coptic Christian minority prayed in the square and how many of the placards combined the crescent and the cross? A common chant was: “Hand in hand.”

To what degree did religious divisions play a role in the more recent conflicts in Egypt?

What about the conflicts in Sudan and the Central African Republic? Is this a conflict between Arabs and Africans in Sudan, or between Muslims and Christians in both countries? And did the churches become too closely identified with the cause of Southern Sudan?

Consider the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Is this a Jewish-Muslim conflict? How do Christians whose families have been living there for generations and centuries feel in terms of their identity? Is there a place for them there?

Was the invasion of Iraq built on a case for a ‘just war’? Or did it build on our traditional antipathies towards, fears of, and misconceptions of Islam?

With the murder of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya this week [February 2015], what are the appropriate Christian responses to violence?

What do we mean by a ‘just war’?


In today’s world, how do we move from encounter to dialogue and understanding?

Appendix 1:

The criteria for a just war:

Seven conditions:

Declaration by a legitimate authority;
2, Just cause;
3, Formal declaration;
4, Right intention;
5, Last resort;
6, Reasonable hope of success;
7, Due proportion between the benefits sought and the damage done.

Three Conditions for conduct:

Guaranteed immunity of non-combatants.
2, Prisoners must be treated humanely;
3, International treaties must be honoured.

Were these conditions met in Northern Ireland?

In Iraq?

Who was responsible for meeting these conditions?

Can there be an ‘unjust’ war or a ‘just’ revolution?

Or are these models relevant?

What is a jihad?

The word jihad in fact has its roots in the Arabic verb to exert, and means not holy war (as translated by Thomas Aquinas) but an exertion on behalf of true religion and submission to God.

On the other hand, Islam allows no other form of war and violence except that with some religious objective.

Appendix 2:

Περιμένοντας τους Bαρβάρους (Waiting for the Barbarians), CP Cavafy:

— Τι περιμένουμε στην αγορά συναθροισμένοι;

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

— Γιατί μέσα στην Σύγκλητο μια τέτοια απραξία;
Τι κάθοντ’ οι Συγκλητικοί και δεν νομοθετούνε;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Τι νόμους πια θα κάμουν οι Συγκλητικοί;
Οι βάρβαροι σαν έλθουν θα νομοθετήσουν.

—Γιατί ο αυτοκράτωρ μας τόσο πρωί σηκώθη,
και κάθεται στης πόλεως την πιο μεγάλη πύλη
στον θρόνο επάνω, επίσημος, φορώντας την κορώνα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Κι ο αυτοκράτωρ περιμένει να δεχθεί
τον αρχηγό τους. Μάλιστα ετοίμασε
για να τον δώσει μια περγαμηνή. Εκεί
τον έγραψε τίτλους πολλούς κι ονόματα.

— Γιατί οι δυο μας ύπατοι κ’ οι πραίτορες εβγήκαν
σήμερα με τες κόκκινες, τες κεντημένες τόγες•
γιατί βραχιόλια φόρεσαν με τόσους αμεθύστους,
και δαχτυλίδια με λαμπρά, γυαλιστερά σμαράγδια•
γιατί να πιάσουν σήμερα πολύτιμα μπαστούνια
μ’ ασήμια και μαλάματα έκτακτα σκαλιγμένα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα•
και τέτοια πράγματα θαμπώνουν τους βαρβάρους.

—Γιατί κ’ οι άξιοι ρήτορες δεν έρχονται σαν πάντα
να βγάλουνε τους λόγους τους, να πούνε τα δικά τους;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα•
κι αυτοί βαρυούντ’ ευφράδειες και δημηγορίες.

— Γιατί ν’ αρχίσει μονομιάς αυτή η ανησυχία
κ’ η σύγχυσις. (Τα πρόσωπα τι σοβαρά που εγίναν).
Γιατί αδειάζουν γρήγορα οι δρόμοι κ’ η πλατέες,
κι όλοι γυρνούν στα σπίτια τους πολύ συλλογισμένοι;

Γιατί ενύχτωσε κ’ οι βάρβαροι δεν ήλθαν.
Και μερικοί έφθασαν απ’ τα σύνορα,
και είπανε πως βάρβαροι πια δεν υπάρχουν.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους.
Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard


The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and its consequences: a reflection on the Hard Gospel Project.

Next week:

26 February 2015: reading week.

Then: 5 March 2015,

7.1: Partition, conflict and peace: the Church of Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries.

7.2: Theologies of reconciliation and the challenges of divided societies (M Volf, R Schreiter, J de Gruchy).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 19 February 2015 was part of the MTh Year II course, TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context.

Through Lent with Vaughan Williams (2):
‘Mass in G minor’

Patrick Comerford

As my reflections and devotions for Lent this year, I intend each day to reflect on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

Later today, I am presiding at the Eucharist at a meeting of the Irish chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests (SCP), so this morning I am thinking about the Mass in G minor by Vaughan Williams, which is often chosen as a setting for Ash Wednesday in colleges throughout England.

The Mass in G minor was written by Vaughan Williams in 1921, and is perhaps notable as the first mass written in a distinctly English manner since the 16th century. It has been described as being ‘wondrously beautiful and wondrously sad’ at the same time.

Vaughan Williams dedicated this piece ‘To Gustav Holst and his Whitsuntide Singers’ at Thaxted in north Essex. This group and Sir Richard Runciman Terry’s Westminster Cathedral Choir, which specialised in ‘early’ choral music, were the inspiration for the work. Vaughan Williams sent the completed Mass to Terry for comment, who was delighted by it, before its first performance.

The Mass was then first performed in the Town Hall, Birmingham, on 6 December 1922 by the City of Birmingham Choir under the direction of Joseph Lewis. Although this first performance was in a concert venue, Vaughan Williams intended the Mass to be used in a liturgical setting, and Terry directed its first liturgical performance in Westminster Cathedral on 12 March 1923.

As conductor of the Bach Choir, Vaughan Williams had acquired practical experience of the capabilities of such a group. His experience bore fruit in this Mass. The idiom he adopted unwittingly elicited the jibe ‘Back to Hucbald,’ from a critic who was referring to the tenth century music theorist.

The idiom is purposefully spiritual in the manner of great Elizabethan liturgical music, employing clearly defined imitative entries for the voices, melodic shapes derived from plainchant, and modal harmonies. In this Mass, Vaughan Williams evokes the sonorities, polyphony and choral textures of the great Tudor composers, including Tallis and Taverner. It is a rich and mystical work, but the composer does not abandon the suggestions of English folksong and parallel harmonies that are typical of his style.

Some commentators have noted how the disposition of voices—four soloists plus two antiphonal bodies of performers—is akin to that used for the strings in the Tallis Fantasia, revised by Vaughan Williams at this time.

The Mass in G minor was written for an unaccompanied double choir and four soloists, and is divided into five movements:

1, Kyrie;

2, Gloria in excelsis;

3, Credo;

4, Sanctus - Hosanna I, Benedictus - Hosanna II;

5, Agnus Dei.

The fourth movement is the most notable, for the ongoing structure of Sanctus–Hosanna I, Benedictus–Hosanna II, but also for the impressionistic undulations of the pianissimo opening, which are reminiscent of the beginning of Vaughan Williams’s Pastoral Symphony which had its first performance in January 1922, between this Mass being written and receiving its first performance.

Tomorrow:There is no moment of my life