Friday, 30 July 2010

I hope to see you at the book stall in the big marquee in Portrane

The great Portrane sale in support of Heart-to-Hand is on this weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Yes, it’s back again this year.

The Sale of the Century takes place this August Bank Holiday Weekend, from Saturday, 31 July, to Monday 2 August, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. each afternoon at the great Lynders marquee at The Quay, Portrane, in north Co Dublin.

This great sale has become one of the busiest calendar events in Portrane, and is run each year in aid of “Heart to Hand,” which was set up to care for the poorest of the poor in countries like Albania, Bosnia, Moldova and Romania.

This care includes providing food, medicine, clothes and other forms of humanitarian aid. In more recent years it has also included education and training to help people fend for themselves.

Heart-to-Hand is a non-denominational, voluntary organisation, and each year the Great Portrane Sale raises thousands of euro to help this work.

My cousins, the Lynders sisters, are the best sales team in Ireland. At this weekend’s sale, they’ll try to sell you designer clothes, shoes, jewellery, toys, books, plants, furniture … everything except the kitchen sink to beat the recession.

To get to The Quay, Portrane, take Exit 4 off the M1, continue through Donabate, on to Portrane, and on to the end of the peninsula.

I hope to see you at the book stall in the big marquee some afternoon this bank holiday weekend ... hail, rain or sunshine. You might even join me for a walk on the beach.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

What is a degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary worth?

Lining up in Christ’s College, Cambridge, for the degree conferring ceremony (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Last week, while I was in Cambridge, it was delightful to see students robed for their degree conferring ceremonies. And I was reminded how sometimes I have been asked about the Masters of Arts degree, and how it is earned at Cambridge, Oxford and at Trinity College Dublin. After all, an MA hood from Dublin appears to have almost the status of a liturgical requirement in some parishes in the Church of Ireland.

In the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin, the degree of Master of Arts or Master in Arts (MA) is awarded to Bachelors of Arts (BA) of those universities on application after six or seven years of seniority as a members of the university – including the years they have spent as an undergraduate – and no examination or study is required for the degree beyond those required for the BA. This practice differs from most other universities, such as UCD and the NUI, where the MA degree reflects further postgraduate study or achievement. In the ancient universities of Scotland, the MA degree is awarded as a first degree to undergraduates in certain subjects.

And so, the Cambridge and Oxford MAs, like an MA from Trinity College Dublin, are based on a system of academic rank rather than academic qualifications. Once someone has been incepted or promoted to MA, one is technically no longer a BA and cannot use both sets of initials at the same time nor wear the academicals pertaining to the BA degree.

All three universities have other masters degrees that require further study and examination, but these have other titles, such as Master of Letters (MLitt), Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Studies (MSt), Master of Theology (MTh), and so on.

At Cambridge, the MA may be conferred six years after the end of the first term in residence upon anyone holding a Cambridge degree of BA.

At Oxford, the MA may be conferred during or after the 21st term from matriculation, or seven years after becoming a student at the university, on anyone who holds an Oxford degree of BA or BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts). An exception is that someone holds the degree BA and who attains the degree of Doctor of Philosophy may immediately incept as an MA before the required number of terms have passed.

At Trinity College Dublin, the MA may be conferred on anyone holding a Dublin BA or another bachelor degree of at least three years’ standing.

The hood for the MA (Cantab) or Cambridge MA

At Cambridge, having the MA, or a postgraduate masters degree or doctorate, confers membership of the University Senate. This gives the right to:

● take part in Discussions (part of the University’s decision-making process);
● vote in the election of a new Chancellor or High Steward;
● borrow books from the University Library.

Many colleges also offer their senior members the opportunity to dine at High Table on a certain number of occasions each year.

Other Cambridge degrees

Ridley Hall, Cambridge, is part of the Cambridge Theological Federation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Of course, there are other Cambridge degree-awarding bodies.

The Cambridge Theological Federation is a cluster of teaching and research institutions that includes Westcott House and Ridley Hall (Church of England), Wesley House (Methodist Church), the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (where I have studied for the past three years, and hich is based at Wesley House), the Margaret Beaufort Institute for Theology (Roman Catholic), the Eastern Region Ministry Course (Church of England and Methodist), Westminster College (United Reformed Church), the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths (also based at Wesley House), the Henry Martyn Centre, now housed in Westminster College, the Norwich Diocesan Ministry Course, the Norwich Theology Centre, and the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan Ministry Course.

Their students usually receive their degrees and diplomas from either Cambridge University or Anglia Ruskin University, which was founded as the Cambridge School of Art by John Ruskin in 1858. It has a campus on East Road, Cambridge, and another in Chelmsford, Essex.

And, of course, across the Charles River from Boston, there is Cambridge, Massachusetts, with such prestigious institutions as Harvard University, MIT, Episcopal Divinity School and Radcliffe College.

Free degrees from Cambridge Theological Seminary

Punting on the Backs in Cambridge ... many miles away from Cambridge, Ohio (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But did you ever hear of the Cambridge Theological Seminary? If you heard that someone had a Cambridge MA or DD, and then heard it was not from Cambridge University, nor Harvard, but from Cambridge Theological Seminary, what would you think of it?

Cambridge Theological Seminary offers free Doctor of Divinity degrees online, along with free ordination of ministers and chaplains, free certification for counsellors, and offers free church charters through its website. Constantly, the website of this Cambridge Theological Seminary asks: “Do you qualify for a ‘Free!’ Doctor of Divinity from Cambridge Theological Seminary?” One page alone asks this question over 50 times.

This seminary claims to have 35,000 students and 111 satellite schools around the world, and to serve ministers in 161 nations, offering full and legal ordination online for all phases of ministry, from Sunday School teachers to singers, deacons and preachers, chaplain’s ordination, for jails, hospitals, schools, court police and fire departments, and a free Doctor of Divinity degree “for all genuine Bible-Believing Preachers & Bible and School-Teachers.”

The website of the Cambridge Theological Seminary points out that “Cambridge” is the “World’s Greatest Name in Education!” In other places on the site, it boasts that Cambridge Theological Seminary has “the greatest name in education.”

The panoramic image of King's College, Cambridge, used on the website of Cambridge Theological Seminary

The top of one page is decorated with a splendid, panoramic photograph of the Front Court of King’s College, Cambridge, including the chapel, the Gibbs Building, the Gatehouse, the fountain on the Front Lawn, and part of the Wilkins Building. The caption beneath this photograph proclaims: “Cambridge Theological Seminary, Continues the ‘Scholarly Tradition’ of Ancient Cambridge.”

Buried deep down in the webpages, under the heading that screams “Official Notice!”, is a disclaimer: “There is absolutely no connection between Cambridge Theological Seminary International and the secular University of Cambridge in England – although we are following the ‘Ancient Cambridge Scholarly Tradition’ into the 9th Century. In fact, we strongly renounce their turning away from a Christio-centric (sic) World-view, and the Infallible Word of God.”

The Seminary Home Office is not in Cambridge, England, nor is it in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The address for its “Global Online Religious Education Headquarters” is at 109 Palmetto Place (Cambridge), Byesville, OH 43723, and it says its parent church is the (Global) Churches, United for Christ.

This Cambridge Theological Seminary traces its roots to a Bible Evangelistic Ministry that began in Ohio in 1965. The Cambridge Christian Academy of Ohio was founded in 1973 or 1974, and was incorporated in Ohio in 1977 as a “Non-Profit Educational Institution.” Over time, the Cambridge Christian Academy became the Cambridge Theological Seminary, and since 1982 it has been managed by a corporation or company based in North Carolina, Virginia or Florida, depending on which page of the website you are reading. Cambridge Theological Seminary is now registered with the State of Florida as an Institution of Higher Learning (Number 42), and plans to open two campuses in Florida in the coming academic year (2010-2011). An Arizona branch is also being considered for the Tucson area, possibly by 2012.

Cambridge Theological Seminary International describes itself as a “Legal Church in the United States of America, Theologically Accredited as a Bible Seminary,” and claims it is fully accredited – by the International Agency of Independent Accreditation (IAIA).

The owners boldly state that “religious institutions need no secular accreditation because they offer no secular degrees,” and that “the Church need not wait for approval from the secular world. Civil agencies should not be dictating standards of Christian education, any more than a police officer should be directing the worship of God. Theological seminaries should not be accredited by accrediting associations that are ‘recognized’ by an agency of the federal government … Our ultimate authority is God and as such we choose to remain free in our rights to teach degree programs based on the word of God as found in His Holy Bible.”

The website declares “all religious backgrounds – male and female – are fully welcome at all” the programmes. And the programmes are myriad: the other degrees on offer include Doctor of Sacred Letters (D.Litt.), described as an “Honorary Title based on Published Writing,” Doctor of Biblical Theology, Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.), Doctor of Christian Education (D.C.Ed.), Doctor of Pastoral Ministry (D.P.M.), Doctor of Evangelism (D.Evan.), Doctor of Chaplaincy (Ch.D.), Doctor of Christian Counselling for Spiritual Counsellor (D.C.C.), Doctor of Christology, Doctorate in Sacred Music Instruments (D.S.M.I.), Doctorate in Sacred Music Vocals (D.S.M.V.) Doctorate in Praise and Worship (D.P.W.), Doctor of Christian Humanities (D.C.H.), described as an “Honorary Degree in the Humanities,” and Doctor of Pedagogy (D.Ped.), which it says is an “honorary degree in teaching.”

Other programmes on offer include two-year, four-year, and masters’ degrees in Biblical Studies, once again “for all genuine Bible-Believing Preachers & Bible and School-Teachers.” It even offers programmes on how to start a new church or ministry that is tax-exempt from the first day, that comes complete with “a Beautiful 33-Page Fill-in-The-Blank packet (With Charter),” and “How to Start an Accredited Bible Institute in your Local Church as an affiliate of Cambridge Theological Seminary (With Charter).”

The degree and ordination programmes appear to have been so popular this year, that the place fell behind in dealing with orders in May and June, and asked customers – sorry, students – to resubmit in July. “We’ve had some glitches with new equipment and adapting to upgraded programs,” they say, “and we know some errors were made, the main one being applicants getting marked ‘completed’ when they weren’t!!!”

But would you want advice, or – worse still – therapy from someone who had completed their “Licensed Christian Counselors Program with Basic Lessons, for fees and income”? And, in their own words, “there is more … from Income Tax Advice and Ministry structure to Evangelism Programs, Estate Planning, Biblical Health Care, and ‘Godly Wealth-Building’ for Ministers … to the very best of our ability.”

They say their Doctor of Divinity degree is available to anyone in a genuine “ministering position” – including pastors, Christian college and Christian day-school teachers, Christian counsellors and psychologists, Christian medical doctors and lawyers, evangelists, missionaries, judges, chaplains, etc.

This self-styled seminary says it is “Non-Denominational, Christo-centic (sic), Absolute [sic] Bible Based … Radically Dedicated to Christ’s Great Commission!” But its degrees are available only for “serious, conservative, Bible-preaching ministers.”

But, sorry, this is not really a free-for-all.

Anyone who wants a DD degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary must sign a “Statement of Faith,” a “Statement of Authenticity,” a “Statement of Call-to-Ministry,” and a “Statement of Experience in Ministry.”

In addition, all applicants must sign a declaration that they “believe the Holy Bible to be the Inspired, eternal Word of God, and the Basic Tenets of ‘First Century Christianity’ as given in the earliest Apostle’s [sic] Creed,” declare their “opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,” and that they “believe the Holy Bible teaches Marriage as Instituted by Father-God in Eden, regardless what is politically correct.”

Why would you want this degree?

But then, why would you want a free degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary?

And if you went around telling people you had an MA or DD from Cambridge, would you be embarrassed when they found out it was a degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary in Ohio … or in Florida … or in Virginia … or in North Carolina … or in Arizona … or in cyberspace, or wherever it’s based at present?

Well, this self-styled seminary is “absolutely certain” that a DD degree, “backed up by a ‘Solid Transcript’ – from a well-known and large Bible Seminary with a deeply respected name like ‘Cambridge’” will “be greatly enhanced.”

And this place promises prospective applicants their church members “will give greater heed to your teaching,” staff, trustees and business associates “will be more apt to listen to your counsel,” your “Community and City Council will be more respectful,” why, “even your family and friends, will listen a little better, and accept your advice more readily … It will even help your children and grandchildren see you in a new and more powerful light.”

When it comes to my children, perhaps “more light-heartedly” might be more appropriate than “more powerful light.”

How free is a free degree?

In any case, the DD is not free. As you scroll down, they tell you that although all the (unnamed) administrators are volunteers, “to keep this Ministry functioning … we need a $31 offering to cover for our purchase, custom-printing, embossed-stamping, gold-sealing, and double-signing” of the “Standard-Size Degree”, and a $21 Offering for additional copies. But, you are told, “It is a Beautiful Degree … You will be so pleased!”

Then, you are also asked for a $39 offering to evaluate your application, “Transcript your Life Experience” into Semester Credits, and to form your “Official Credit-Bank Record” in their records, a $30 offering to make a permanent file and to maintain your college transcript and degree records “indefinitely… for your future verification needs,” a $59 offering to “Register your Doctor of Divinity” in three states, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, and a $22 offering for shipping, handling and mailing. In all, this totals $151 for what they call a “Seed-Faith Offering.”

You may debate the traditions and merits of an MA from Cambridge, Oxford or Dublin. But a free degree from Cambridge Theological Seminary is something else. I know when a free degree is really a worthless degree, and I hope never to see a hood for one being worn in the Church of Ireland.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

A walk on the Burrow Beach in Portrane

Looking across the Burrow Beach in Portrane towards Lambay Island (centre) and The Quay (to the right) on Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
Patrick Comerford

As I was flying into Dublin from Stansted last night, looking out to my right, the beaches of Portmarnock, Malahide, and north Co Dublin stretched out northwards, and I realised I had no walk on a breach for the past fortnight.

After the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral and coffee in the crypt, I headed out to Portrane at lunchtime to see my Lynders cousins. In Portrane, I found the plans for the great August Weekend Sale are well advanced.

The Lynders sisters are the best sales team you can find, and each year this three-day sale on the weekend of the August Bank Holiday not only brings hundreds of visitors to The Quay in Portrane, but also raises tens of thousands of euro to support projects in Romania and Albania.

The marquee is up beside Mary Lynders’s house, the goods for sale are piling up, and everyone is hoping for good weather next weekend.

Afterwards, I took a walk on the Burrow Beach, which stretches for miles north from Portrane towards Rogerstown Estuary and Rush.

Although there were grey clouds in the sky, there was strong sunshine, and the temperature was in the early 20s. A lone yacht was making its way between the Quay and Lambay Island, and the water was gently lapping the shoreline of the beach. So, I was surprised to find so few people on the beach – a few children with their parents, a man sitting on his own smoking and listening to his headphones, a couple fast asleep in a car just above the shoreline.

I’m sure everything will be much busier next weekend, all-abuzz and full of life.

Meanwhile, the walk along the beach was a good opportunity to get fresh air into my lungs and to get my body moving properly.

I had plenty of good opportunities for walks in Cambridge last week, particularly on Friday when I visited Longstanton, and on Saturday morning when I took time to stroll along the Backs and the banks of the River Cam.

But this was my first walk on a beach since I was in Skerries a fortnight ago, and it certainly helped me to think I am coping with the symptoms of sarcoidosis. I may have sarcoidosis, but sarcoidosis will never have me.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Further travels in search of Pugin

Saint Michael’s ... a rare example of an English church with a thatched roof ... is said to have inspired Pugin’s design of a parish church in Barntown, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

When the summer school ended in Sidney Sussex College, I headed off on Friday afternoon to Longstanton, a small village about 10 km north of Cambridge with a population of about 1,700.

Long Stanton railway station closed in 1970, but as part of the Cambridge and Huntingdon line, Long Stanton railway station is recalled in the Flanders and Swann song, Slow Train. But the train station closed in 1970, and I had to catch a No 5 bus from Emmanuel Street heading towards Saint Ive’s, out past the back of Christ’s College and Sidney Sussex, past Jesus College, Westcott House, the Round Church, Saint John’s, over Mag’s Bridge, past Magdalene, New Hall, Fitzwilliam, Girton and out into the countryside on the road leading to Huntingdon.

This is still flat, sun-kissed open countryside, with yellow fields that spread as far as they eye can see. Yet Longstanton is only half an hour away. But, while the villages and the country side are captivating in the summer sun, I was in search of some interesting connections with the influences on Augustus Pugin, the leading light in the Gothic Revival in mid-19th century church architecture.

It is only a few weeks ago since I found myself searching out Pugin’s churches and cathedrals in Uttoxeter, Cheadle, Birmingham and Solihull, trying to find what had influenced and inspired his designs for his church buildings in Co Wexford. On this summer afternoon, I was in for a special treat.

One village, two parishes

All Saints’ Church, on the corner of the High Street in Longstanton, dates from the mid-14th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford 2010)

Longstanton is unusual among English villages for it has two mediaeval parish churches – a legacy of its long history as two parishes. For most of its history, Longstanton was divided into two separate parishes – the larger Long Stanton All Saints’ to the north of the village, and the smaller Long Stanton Saint Michael to the south. The Domesday Book in 1086 refers to both a “Stantone” and a “Stantune.” By 1240, there are references to both “Stanton” and “the other Stanton.”

During World War II, the once sleepy village was transformed in 1940 with the opening of RAF Oakington, when new housing estates were built and the population trebled. The two villages were formally amalgamated only as late as 1953.

The larger of the two parish churches, All Saints’ Church, is in the centre of the village and dates from the mid-14th Century, when it replaced an earlier church that had been destroyed by a fire. All Saints’ closed in 2003 when the ceiling collapsed, but it opened again three years ago, and is now a Grade I listed building.

The restored Hatton family monument in All Saints’ Church, Longstanton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Further north, there are thatched houses, the site of the old railway station, and the Black Bull – a pub that is said to be over 300 years’ old but that was closed on Friday afternoon.

At the southern end of the village, Saint Michael’s Church is the smaller and older parish church. It was built around 1230, and is a notable, rare example of an English church with a thatched roof – one of only two surviving thatched churches in Cambridgeshire. A well in the churchyard is said to have been used in mediaeval times for baptisms.

Saint Michael’s is a Grade II listed building. It has no longer used for regular worship and has been closed since the two parishes in Longstanton were amalgamated. It is now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust.

Inspirational and formative

Saint Michael’s played an interesting and formative role in the development of 19th century church architecture, inspiring the design in churches from Wexford to Philadelphia and South Dakota (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Saint Michael’s played an interesting and formative role in the development of 19th century church architecture. Churches modelled after its style have been built in Co Wexford, Philadelphia and South Dakota.

Pugin conceived of Saint Alphonsus’s Church, Barntown, in the parish of Glynn, as a complete Catholic parish church and is his only complete expression in Ireland of the small village parish church. Some writers suggest the church in Barntown is a finer version of the simplest of all Pugin’s designs, Saint Augustine’s in Solihull, which I visited earlier this month. However, most historians say Pugin’s design for Barntown was based on Saint Michael’s in Longstanton.

Saint Michael’s also inspired the design of Saint James the Less in Philadelphia. The remarkable fidelity of that church to Gothic design was accidental. When the parish asked the Cambridge Camden Society for a set of plans for a new church, it was inadvertently sent measured drawings of Saint Michael’s in Longstanton, prepared by GG Place, and these were followed in every detail under the supervision of the architect, John E Carver.

The Round Church … Pugin was enthusiastic about its restoration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Pugin loved this part of England: he was a keen supporter of the Cambridge Camden Society, which was founded in 1835 and later became the Ecclesiological Society, and was enthusiastic about its restoration of the Round Church in Cambridge; in 1842-1843, he built Saint Andrew’s, the first post-Reformation Roman Catholic parish church in Cambridge; and for three years, between 1846 and 1849, he was involved in the restoration of the chapel in Jesus College, including the furnishing and the redecoration of the mediaeval fabric, and inserting the lancet windows at the East End.

The chapel of Jesus College … Pugin was involved in the restoration, furnishing and redecoration of the mediaeval fabric (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But Pugin was unrestrained in his criticism of the work of his contemporaries in Cambridge, and described Saint Paul’s as a “cheap church of the nineteenth century.” He had already used red brick in building Saint Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham – had he had now consigned this approach to church design to the past?

On his visits to Cambridge, he was lionized by his lifelong friend, Benjamin Webb, one of the founders of the Cambridge Camden Society, and Pugin was invited to lecture in Cambridge on his True Principles and to contribute to the journal The Ecclesiologist.

Ely Cathedral … Webb found Pugin weeping openly in the Lady Chapel after Choral Evensong one summer afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Perhaps Pugin returned to this corner of England again and again for inspiration and for emotional reasons. He once expressed complete contempt for Wyatt’s work at Ely Cathedral, and during another visit to Ely Cathedral on a late summer afternoon, Webb found Pugin weeping openly in the Lady Chapel after Evensong.

I had a better experience in Ely Cathedral on a visit this summer, when I stayed for Choral Evensong. But that’s another story for another day, I think.

Downing College, which has no courts, was designed in the classical style by William Wilkins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Earlier in the day, I visited Downing College, which is unusual among Cambridge Colleges, for it has no courts. It was designed in the classical style by William Wilkins, because George III disapproved of the Gothic style.

Perhaps there is an irony in the fact that I am staying at Sidney Sussex College, which owes so much to Wyatt’s interpretation of Gothic architecture, despite Pugin’s detestation of his work.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Wyatt removed the dilapidated classical gateway of Sidney Sussex, replacing it with a new Porter’s Lodge and Tower, and redesigned the Master’s Lodge and the two front courts, Chapel Court and Hall Court, between 1821 and 1832. He covered the red-brick buildings with Roman cement, added a porch and bell turret to the chapel, and decorated the buildings with gables and battlements in his interpretation of the Gothic style.

Wyatt removed the classical gateway at Sidney Sussex, replacing it with a new Porter’s Lodge and Tower, and redesigned Hall Court and Chapel Court (Photograph, Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In a harsh criticism of Wyatt, Sir Nicholas Pevsner – who had a strong affection for Pugin’s work, especially in Staffordshire – once said unkindly: “There is no getting away from the fact that Sidney Sussex is architecturally the least attractive of the old colleges of the universities.”

For my part, though, Sidney Sussex had been a very attractive and very welcoming old college for the past week. I am heading back to Dublin this afternoon, but hope to return to Cambridge soon.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

‘A little too gorgeous and complete’

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, standing on a strategic corner in Cambridge (Photograph, Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

It is impossible not to notice the exuberantly massive Roman Catholic Church that stands guard on a prominent street corner on the way from the train station and the heart of Cambridge city centre.

This impressive – if not overpowering – castellated Gothic building is known locally as the Catholic church, or simply as “the Catholic,” although local Cambridge Catholics often refer to it affectionately by its acronym, OLEM – Our Lady and the English Martyrs.

The first post-Reformation Roman Catholic church in Cambridge, Saint Andrew’s, was built by the architect of the Gothic revival, Augustus Pugin, in 1842-1843, who also played an important role in the restoration, decoration and furnishing of the mediaeval fabric of the chapel of Jesus College between 1846 and 1849.

The church makes a strong dramatic statement of faith in a city with a strong Protestant tradition (Photograph, Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Eventually, Pugin’s church was dismantled, removed and rebuilt at Saint Ives, and replaced by OLEM, which was intended to make a strong, dramatic statement of faith in a city with a strong Protestant tradition. It was only in 1895 that the ban on Roman Catholics attending the university was lifted.

The new church cost a fortune, but it was all made possible by the wealth of Yolande Lyne-Stephens, a former ballerina at the Paris Opera and Drury Lane, who had married a very wealthy landowner.

Gothic gargoyles and sleeping dogs decorate the church fabric (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Outside and inside, the church is a riot of detail and decoration: Gothic gargoyles, sleeping dogs, saints and angels, apostles and martyrs, all decorate and embellish the church in stone and in glass.

The best-known priest associated with the church, Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), who had studied classics and theology at Trinity College, Cambridge, between 1890 and 1893. He was a curate there in 1905-1908 and found it all “a little too gorgeous and complete.”

Benson found his church in Cambridge “a little too gorgeous and complete” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Benson was a son of Archbishop Edward White Benson of Canterbury, who had ordained him priest in 1895. But after some time with the Community of the Resurrection, he became a zealous convert to Rome in 1903, was ordained a priest a year later and was then sent to Cambridge. His impact on Cambridge undergraduates was so great that leading Cambridge Anglicans tried to put pressure on his family to make him leave.

Perhaps that is why EM Forster, in The Longest Journey, says the Catholic church “watches over the apostate city, taller by many a yard than anything within, and asserting, however wildly, that here is eternity, stability, and bubbles unbreakable upon a windless sea.”

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Friday, 23 July 2010

‘Prayer comes from love, love comes from joy’

Early morning calm on Sidney Street, outside Sidney Sussex College this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The summer organised in Cambridge by the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies came to an end today. For the past week we have been considering ‘Passion: Human & Divine,’ and our final lecture this morning was by Dr Marcus Plested on ‘Removing the Veil: Macarius (and others) on the Passions.’

We were presented with two interesting contrasts in his readings from the Fathers. Firstly: “[...] prayer comes from love, love comes from joy, joy comes from gentleness, gentleness comes from humility, humility comes from service, service comes from hope, hope comes from faith, faith comes from obedience, obedience comes from simplicity.”

And secondly: “[...] hatred comes from anger, anger comes from pride, pride comes from vainglory, vainglory comes from lack of faith lack of faith comes from hardness if heart, hardness of heart comes from neglect, neglect comes from slackening, slackening comes from acedia, acedia comes from lack of patience, lack of patience comes from pleasure-seeking.”

Our discussions continued in the corridors and courts of Sidney Sussex late into the night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

This has been a busy but fulfilling week at Sidney Sussex College, and we celebrated it all last night at our formal dinner in the Old Library in Chapel Court. Apart from the seminars, lectures, and the daily round of chapel services, including Morning Prayer, Vespers and the Liturgy, we have had good debates and discussions over coffee, in the corridors and in the courts, at meals in the Hall, and in the local hostelries, with many of these conversations carrying on late into the night.

The participants in this year’s summer school have been drawn from across the globe – including Ireland, England, Iceland, Germany, Mexico, Israel, the US, Canada, Israel, Estonia, Romania, Greece and Russia. Old friendships have been renewed and new friendships have been made.

Looking for a new home

Meanwhile the institute is looking for a new home. For the past ten years, the IOCS has been housed in Wesley House, the Methodist college beside Jesus College. Wesley House is to be sold next year, and like all parts of the Cambridge Theological Federation housed there, IOCS is under notice to quit.

Suitable premises less than twenty minutes walk from the centre of Cambridge have come on the market in the form of a former hotel, with 16 bedrooms, and generous chapel conference, lecture and office facilities. The institute is hoping to raise £2 million to buy a new home.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

A silver moon over Silver Bridge

Looking across the Cam from Silver Bridge at the moon rising over Coe Fen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Over the last few nights, those of us who have been taking part in this summer school in Cambridge have enjoyed each other’s company in the evenings in a variety of places, including the Eagle, which is owned by Corpus Christi College, the Mitre -- which is an appropriately-named place for welcoming people with active church interests – and the Baron of Beef on Bridge Street, and the Anchor below Silver Bridge, with its views out over the River Cam and across towards Coe Fen.

Charles Darwin’s granddaughter, Gwen Raverat, writing in Period Piece in 1952 – the year in which I was born – recalled how “nearly all the life of Cambridge flowed backward and forward under the bridge, and before our house.”

In her Edwardian fashion, she was disturbed by the behaviour of undergraduates and the scenes she saw on Silver Bridge and below in the Anchor. In the Period Piece, she describes this pub as “a mysterious haunt, full of Bad Women.”

Her memories were from an age long gone. Later, the Anchor was a haunt of the poet Ted Hughes. Today it is popular in term time with undergraduates from Pembroke or Queens or ordinands from Ridley – and graduates from Darwin College. Outside term time, the Anchor is all a-bustle, busy with tourists queuing for a punt or recalling their first experiences of seeing Cambridge from the Backs, while the bridge is crammed with visitors staring in wonder at the Mathematical Bridge.

Few of these people below in the Anchor or above on Silver Bridge, tourists or students, probably ever heard of Coe Fen or realise its place in Anglican hymnody.

Gwen Raverat believed that “men got drunk; women didn’t.” We may not have been drunk, but I wondered what she would have thought of our motley group of participants in the summer school – women and men, priests and students, from Ireland, Iceland, England, Canada, and Israel/Palestine – as we looked across the Cam and as the moon was rising over Coe Fen?

It was a balmy summer’s evening. I hope for those we saw there it was romantic. How shall I sing that majesty?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Human Passion: Enemy or Friend?

Patrick Comerford and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this afternoon

Patrick Comerford

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware was our lecturer again this afternoon at the summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. In his second lecture today, Metropolitan Kallistos addressed the topic: “Human Passion: Enemy or Friend?”

He asked whether passions are necessarily a bad thing. Passions are mentioned only three times in the New Testament, and always by the Apostle Paul, who speaks of them in the context of the misuse of sexuality, greed and bad desires (see Romans 1: 26; Colossians 3: 5; and I Thessalonians 4: 4-5), although desires are not always bad for him.

Illustrating the need to be correct and accurate in giving Biblical references, he told the story of a priest who once wanted to send a telegram congratulating a woman who was getting married. He wanted to use a Biblical quotation and chose the verse: “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4: 18). Unwisely, he decided to cut down the cost of the telegram to the wedding by merely sending the Biblical reference. However, the Post Office missed the number I and sent a message saying: John 4: 18. She looked up the reference, and read the words of Christ to the Samaritan woman at the well: “For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

Patristic and philosophical thinking on the Passions

We went on to look at what the Greek Fathers had to say on the passions, and their philosophical background in early Hellenism. There were two philosophical views of passion. The first was the Stoic view, represented by Zeno, who saw passion in negative terms. Zeno calls passion “an excessive, unbalanced impulse.” Passion is a feeling or energy that has got out of control, that is disobedient to reason, that is contrary to nature. So, the Stoics saw the Passions as diseases.

On the other hand, Aristotle saw the passions as neither virtues nor vices, but as neutral impulses. Pathos includes not just physical desire or anger, but also includes friendship, courage and joy.

Plato is similar. In the Dialogues, the charioteer has two horses. The chariot driver represents reason and the pious part of the soul, but he has two horses or forces to harness: the first is noble and well-behaved, representing the higher impulses, such as courage; the impulses of the spirited part of the soul, represented by the second horse or force, are disorderly and ill-trained, denoting the lower desires such as the sexual desires. The charioteer has to control both, and this requires proper balance and harmony. The passions give us the vital energies that enable us to move. Reason needs both the desires and the passions to get moving. The Platonic writings even talk about blessed passion.

Most of the Greek Fathers are negative about the passions, taking the Stoic view of the passions. He referred to the way Clement of Alexandria repeats Zeno’s definition of pathos as an excessive impulse that is disobedient to reason and contrary to nature. The aim of the Christian is to reach apatheia, which does not mean apathy or indifference, but is a state of spiritual freedom where we are not dominated or controlled by these passions, replacing bad energy with good energy.

Evagrius of Pontius in the late fourth century follows Clement in seeing the passions in negative terms, linking them with the demons. He lists eight evil thoughts, demons or passions, which became the source of the western doctrine of the seven deadly sins. Evagrius seeks purification from the passions, but links dispassion with love, and so is not simply negative. “When you have ceased to lust, then you can begin to love.”

In the Macarian Homilies, Macarius agrees with Evagrius when it comes to the passions.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa has a similar view of pathos. The passions are not an original part of human nature. Pathos has no place in the divine image and likeness, but reflects our fallen state. He sees the passions as bestial irrationality, reducing the human person to the level of the brute beats. But he allows that passions may sometimes be turned to good use, and his more affirmative view shows that the inflouence of Aristotle is beginning to come in.

This negative view has continued in the majority thinking in Orthodoxy, he said. He referred to the Romanian theologian, Dimitriu Staniloae for whom passion is an exclusive concern with self and infinite attachment to finite things, and who says there can be no virtue where there is passion.

Sidney Sussex College seen from Green Street this afternoon, with the top of Garden Court, where I am staying, and the spire of All Saints’ Church on Jesus Lane, rising above the buildings of Chapel Court (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

A minority view

But he said he did not necessarily accept majority views, and referred to the inscription Bertrand Russell’s grandmother wrote on the Bible she gave to him: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23: 2).

Among the minority viewpoints, he referred to was Abba Isaias (died ca 491), who lived in Palestine; he discusses a series of qualities, including desire, zeal (or jealousy), anger, hatred, and pride, which most people regard as passions. For Abba Isaias, all these things are in accordance with nature, a natural part of our personhood as created by God. He says anger is not in itself evil; what matters is the way in which it is used, and what you do with your anger.

We should feel anger with the demons. The focus should not be on repressing passions but on redirecting them. Jealousy is not entirely evil, for it is said in Scripture that God is a jealous God. The other meaning of the word in Greek is zeal or ardour. This has a negative form when we are jealous of other people, but can be positive when we are zealous and enthusiastic for others.

We are loved by God, and must not to hate what God loves. So we can use pride to have a proper self-image and self-worth, for we are created in the image and likeness of God. Pride can have a good use in driving back the demons of self-despair. There is a proper sense of self-love and self-esteem. Abba Isaias says all the passions can be turned to good use.

Theoderet of Cyrus, in The Healing of Hellenic Maladies, says passions such as desire and anger can be positive. Without desire, there is no longing for divine things, no appetite for food and drink or what he calls lawful procreation. Without these passions, we would die from anorexia and humanity would become extinct. Anger can act as a restraint on our desire for things that are despicable and impure.

He found parallels in the rabbinic tradition, which speaks of the evil impulse or yetzer ha-ra (Genesis 6: 5) as created and implanted by God, giving us the impulse of challenge, without which we would lack direction.

Maximos the Confessor, who is sometimes negative about the passions, also speaks of “the blessed passion of divine love.” Love for Maximos is a passion. He says that the passions are not just reprehensible, but can be praiseworthy. Desire and anger mingle together and can correct each other and produce virtue.

In the later Byzantine period, Saint Gregory Palamas (right) speaks of divine and blessed passions. Our aim is not the death of passions but their redirection.

But, Metropolitan Kallistos asked, did Christ have passions?

If the passions are neutral and not sinful, then Christ did have our passions, he said. Saint John of Damascus says Christ assumes only the natural and blameless passions. He points out that Christ was subject to hunger, thirst, weariness and the fear of death.

He says this is not just a linguistic point. The way we use words influences the way we view reality. Surely it makes a difference whether we say we mortify or transfigure the passions. Do we eradicate or educate, destroy or redirect? He would much prefer the approach that says transfigure, and that is the approach he uses in pastoral care and in the sacrament of confession.

He concluded by quoting the poet John Donne, who said in his A Litany: “That our affections kill us not nor die” (John Donne, A Litany, XXVII).

Participants in the IOCS Summer School in the grounds of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this afternoon

Earlier this afternoon, I took time out to have coffee in Michaelhouse with the Revd Dr Peter Waddell, who has been chaplain of Sidney Sussex for the past four years and who was recently appointed Dean. I don’t know if pleasure counts as one of the passions, it was appositive pleasure to hear the news of his new role.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Does God have feelings and emotions?

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware lecturing at the IOCS Summer School in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, this morning

Patrick Comerford

We are discussing the Passions at this year’s IOCS summer school in Sidney Sussex College this week. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a former chair of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, asked us this morning: Can we ascribe passion to God? Does God suffer? Does God have feelings and emotions?

He pointed out that the Greek word πάθος (pathos) is linked with the verb πάσχειν (paschein, and talked about to suffer passion as an event that is experienced passively, like sleep – we often say that one is overcome by sleep.

Classical theology, under the influence of Aristotle, answered the questions he posed with a resounding No, saying God is impassible, does not and cannot suffer and cannot have feelings and emotions. This Aristotelian idea of God, the unmoved mover, has generally been accepted by Christian writers, eastern and western, but Metropolitan Kallistos said he is not sure that this influence has been entirely benign.

The entrance to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where the summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies is taking place (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Digressing, in a lecture that was filled with the characteristic humour and passion for which Metropolitan Kallistos is well-known, he told how the famous Dr Spooner of Oxford – who is attributed with sayings such as “you have hissed my mystery lecture” – once preached a sermon, and then returned to the pulpit to tell his bewildered congregation: “Every time I mentioned Aristotle, I meant Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Aristotle had given us the idea that God is pure actuality, with no imperfection, never passive but only active. Therefore, he cannot suffer, be influenced or controlled by anything outside himself. Similarly, Thomas Aquinas says God cannot be conquered by or suffer violence, God is unmovable.

This classical image of God is derived from Aristotle, but not from the Bible, where there is a very different image of God, he said.

In the Old Testament, God is passionate, cares for his people, grieves over their sufferings and their sins (see Genesis 6: 6; Judges 10: 16; Hosea 11: 8; Jeremiah 31: 20). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ feels righteous indignation, despair and sorrow, loss and absence of God. He suffers, but is this only in his human nature, as man? Does he suffer in his divine nature?

The traditional answer is that God suffers, but only as God incarnate, in the human nature of Jesus. Metropolitan Kallistos wondered whether this was an entirely satisfactory answer. He asked, what about the involvement of the pre-incarnate Christ in suffering? He recalled the story of the three young men who were thrown into the fiery furnace, and were seen to be accompanied by a fourth, who was like a son of God (see Daniel 3: 25). This fourth figure is understood to be the pre-incarnate Christ, and there he is involved in the suffering of the three young men. The Book of Revelation speaks of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The implication is that the suffering of Christ on the cross is to be carried right back before the incarnation to the beginning of creation (Revelation 13: 8).

Melitus of Sardis believes the pre-incarnate Christ suffered with the righteous, that he was murdered with Abel, bound with Isaac, exiled with Joseph, exposed with Moses, persecuted in David, and dishonoured in the Prophets, participating with the suffering of the people in the Old Testament. Pascal says Christ will be in agony, even unto the end of the world.

The first action of the Risen Christ is to show the wounds on his hands and on his side (John 20: 20), not just for the sake of recognition, but it may also suggest that even in the glory of the Risen Christ there is still a place for our human suffering. At the Second Coming, we shall recognise him because we see the wounds on his hands and feet. Suffering passes, but the fact of having suffered always remains.

Quoting an early third century source, the story of Perpetua and Felicita, he told how Perpetua, when she was facing martyrdom, said: “There will be another in me who will suffer for me.” When we suffer, the Risen and Glorified Christ co-suffers with us. Augustine had said: “Whatever the Church suffers, He also suffers.”

He quoted from Julian of Norwich, George Herbert and William Temple, as he made his argument that Christ continues to be involved in suffering, right up to the end of the world.

Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is perfect and complete, and we cannot add to it. But the Apostle Paul talks about his sufferings being added to Christ’s suffering, so that Christ is suffering too (see Colossians 1: 24). Christ’s suffering is not limited to his incarnate life He suffered before, and continues to suffer now. We should not limit the suffering of God to the incarnation or to God the Son, for Saint Paul also said: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4: 30). When God the Son suffers his suffering is part of the Trinitarian movement.

Christ became incarnate to share our sufferings. “There was a cross in the heart of God long before one was set up outside the walls of Jerusalem.”

Drawing on the writings of Origen in the Homilies on Ezekiel, he said the pathos of Christ’s suffering is love, and asked: How can you say God is impassible if God is the God of Love? God suffers and God suffers with us because he is a God of Love.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Visiting Nosey Parker in the library at Corpus Christi

Archbishop Matthew Parker (right) at the door of the chapel in Corpus Christi College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I visited the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, this morning as part of the programme for this year’s summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

The Parker Library is named after Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-1575), who was the Master of Corpus Christi 1544 to 1553, before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-1575). The library is a treasure house of mediaeval and renaissance manuscripts and early printed books. The magnificent collection was given to Corpus Christi College by Parker and among the books and manuscripts we were shown this morning are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the principal source book for early English history; the Northumbrian Gospel (ca 700), which is a century older than the Book of Kells; and the best manuscript of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde.

The Parker Library ... rebuilt in the 1820s by William Wilkins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Other important parts of the collection include Middle English, French and Latin texts on subjects ranging from alchemy and astrology to music and medicine. We were shown an early Greek Psalter from Mount Sinai, letters signed by Martin Luther and John Calvin, and a text from Saint Basil in Greek, transcribed by Melanchton, which shows the interest of the reformers in returning to Patristic sources.

The collection comprises over 600 manuscripts, around 480 of which were given by Parker. The archbishop also donated around 1,000 printed volumes. However, we did not see a sixth-century Gospel book from Canterbury, which is the oldest illustrated Latin Gospel book now in existence. It is still used for the enthronement of each new Archbishop of Canterbury, and is brought to and from Cambridge to Canterbury for this service by the Master and one or two college representatives. Archbishop Rowan Williams has asked to borrow it to show to Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Britain in September.

Archbishop Parker (right) at the chapel door in Corpus Christi, seen from a window in the Parker Library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Archbishop Parker, who is celebrated by the college as its greatest benefactor, was so assiduous in acquiring books and manuscripts that he became known as “Nosey Parker.” He donated his library to the college, along with silver plate and the college symbol, the pelican, which appears on the college coat-of-arms-arms and crops up in many places around the college.

The Pelican of Matthew Parker on the altar frontal in the chapel of Corpus Christi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

To guarantee the integrity and safety of his collection, Parker specified in his endowment that should the college ever lose more than a certain number of books, the rest of his collection would pass first to Gonville and Caius College and then – if there were any more losses – to Trinity Hall.

Is it any wonder that every few years, representatives from both these colleges ceremonially inspect the collection at Corpus for any losses?

Parker placed similar conditions on the silver that he gave to Corpus. To this day, Corpus retains the entirety of Parker’s library and his silver collection, as they could not be sold off, in one case, or melted down, in the other, without losing both collections. Corpus was the only Oxbridge college not to sell its silverware in support of either side during the English civil war, and remained neutral. According to college legend, the silver plate was distributed to the fellows to keep it from being requisitioned by the warring factions.

Corpus Christi traditions

After Peterhouse, Corpus is the second-smallest of the traditional colleges of the university and the smallest in terms of the number of undergraduates. Formally known as the College of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary, this is the only Cambridge college founded by the townspeople of Cambridge: it was established in 1352 by the Guilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Old Court in Corpus is the oldest of court in any Oxbridge college. The new college acquired all the guild’s lands, ceremonies and revenues, including the annual Corpus Christi procession through the streets to Magdalene Bridge, during which the Eucharistic host was carried by a priest and several of the college’s treasures were carried by the Master and fellows, before returning for an extravagant dinner.

The Old Court in Corpus Christi College is the oldest surviving court in any Oxbridge college (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg says Mass in a corner of the public gardens in Trebizond to mark the Feast of Corpus Christi. After Mass, he holds a procession round the gardens, chanting Ave Verum, stops, preaches a short sermon in English, and says that Corpus Christi is a great Christian festival and holy day, “always kept in the Church of England.”

The procession in Cambridge continued until the Reformation, but in 1535 William Sowode, who was Parker’s predecessor as Master (1523-1544), stopped this tradition. However, the college continues to have a grand dinner on the feast of Corpus Christi.

At first, the college had no chapel, and used Saint Bene’t’s Church next door for worship and liturgies until the beginning of the 16th century. At one time during the Reformation, the college was also known as Saint Bene’t’s ... perhaps in a conscious effort to make a break with the rituals associated with Corpus Christi.

The first college chapel was built by Thomas Cosyn, who was Master from 1487 to 1515, along with a passageway between Old Court and St Bene’t’s Church. The old chapel was demolished to make way for New Court, including the Parker Library, which were designed by William Wilkins and completed in 1827.

The chapel in Corpus Christi College was designed by William Wilkins as a miniature replica of the chapel in King’s College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The chapel now in New Court is part of the 19th century rebuilding of Corpus Christi. It is the third chapel in the college, and was built as a replica of the chapel in nearby King’s College.

Eagles, ducks and time-eaters

The Eagle ... part of college life in Corpus Christi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The student bar in Corpus is called the Pelican, another living connection with Matthew Parker’s rebus. But Corpus also owns the Eagle Pub nearby, where some of us have adjourned for a drink in the evenings. James Watson and Francis Crick are said to have refreshed themselves in this pub while deliberating over the structure of DNA in the Cavendish Laboratory. On discovering the structure of DNA around 1952, it is said, they walked into the Eagle and declared: “We have found the secret of life.” A plaque on the front of the pub recalls the event.

Each spring, for the last few years, a duck has chosen to lay her eggs amongst the plants in Corpus Christi. This is some 200 metres from the River Cam and across Trumpington Street. When the ducklings hatch and are ready to get to the river, the mother duck signals this by walking around the court quacking loudly.

In a scene that would be the envy of any hotel in the Peabody Group, one of the porters then stops traffic on Trumpington Street to allow the duck and her offspring to cross. Across the street, the porters in Saint Catharine’s College then open their college gates and take over responsibility for getting them safely to the river.

The Chronophage or “Time Eater” at Corpus Christi is accurate only once every five minutes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

When the lease of the National Westminster branch bank adjacent to Corpus on the corner of Trumpington Street and King’s Parade expired five years ago, the college reclaimed the premises and began building Library Court, which was completed in 2008. The building, which has received several awards, is best known for the new clock – the Chronophage – which was unveiled by the physicist Stephen Hawking, on 18 September 2008.

The name Chronophage means “Time Eater.” The clock is unusual not only because of its design but because it is accurate only once every five minutes. A few steps away, the National Westminster night safe is still in the wall – time has failed to eat it.

In any case, it was delightful to spend time in Corpus Christi this morning, being a true Nosey Parker in this unique library.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

I never wanted to be a gardener, but ...

The gardens at Sidney Sussex are a haven for everyone taking part in this year’s summer school (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

I have never been interested in gardening. To be frank, I have no interest in ever being a gardener. But gardening is a noble and Christian profession ... on Easter morning, Mary first thought the Risen Christ was the gardener.

Here in Cambridge, the college courts and gardens are secluded and hidden places of calm. In the midst of a very busy tourist season, as I try to listen and study, these gardens and courts are oases of peace and tranquillity.

This year, I’m staying in Garden Court in Sidney Sussex College. The Richard Powell Library is on the ground floor. Unlike Cloister Court and Chapel Court, where I have stayed in previous years, this is an ugly, brash, functional modern building – too ugly to be part of a housing estate in Dagenham.

On the other hand, these rooms mean that I am right beside Mong Hall, where our lectures and seminars are taking place each day. My room looks out onto the King Street Gate and over the busy, lively junction of King Street, Hobson Street and Sussex Street. From most parts of this building, there are also gracious, gentle views across the Master’s Garden and the Fellows’ Garden that have given Garden Court its name.

Despite its brash, modern appearances, Garden Court is located on historic ground. This building stands over the original course of the King’s Ditch, an ancient watercourse that helped to protect 13th century Cambridge against the rebellious robber barons lurking in the Fens.

There is a tradition of maintaining the gardens at Sidney Sussex College that is as old as the college itself, stretching back more than 400 years. The college was founded in 1596, and from the spring of 1598 John Simon was employed here as a gardener. The college statutes that year provided for two gardens, the first for the Master and the second for the Fellows. Another formal garden, similar to the Fellows’ Garden, was laid out on the grounds where Garden Court now stands.

At one stage, some of the present gardens were used as sports grounds and for football matches. It is said that while Oliver Cromwell was an undergraduate at Sidney Sussex, he wasted much of his time playing football in the gardens. He is quoted as having said later he could remember the time when he was more afraid of being tackled in football by a fellow student, John Wainwright, than “of meeting any army since in the field.”

When Cloister Court was built in the early 1890s, the bodies buried in the mediaeval Franciscan cemetery on the site were disturbed and had to be re-interred. But the building of Cloister Court also took away from the Fellows’ Garden much of its original area.

The history of the present gardens begins with the work of the Revd Bertram Tom Dean Smith, who was elected a fellow in 1918 and later became the Dean and Tutor of Sidney Sussex. BTD, as he was known, was a keen and gifted amateur gardener, and he devoted the greater part of his leisure hours to improving and developing the Fellows’ Garden.

Strolling through the gardens this week, I have stumbled across delightful structures such as the classical gate, which holds a child-like secret promise of entry into Jesus Lane, and the view of the spire of All Saints’ Church beside Westcott House.

The Weeping Ash in the Master’s Garden in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Many of the trees in the gardens remember former undergraduates or fellows of Sidney Sussex. One of the most famous trees in the gardens of Sidney Sussex must be the weeping ash in the Master’s Garden, in the circular bed behind the lodge.

Although the Master’s Garden is normally closed to the public, I am told it springs to life at the receptions on degree days for graduands and their families, and during the tea parties given for members of Sidney Sussex returning to Cambridge for the annual gatherings commemorating Lady Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, and her foundation of the college.

It is said that Sidney glows most brightly in Spring, when the unmanicured areas beneath the trees are flooded with bulbs. Things begin to get busy in March, and every second year an elevation platform has to be hired to prune the Magnolia grandiflora in Hall Court.

The Magnolia grandiflora in Hall Court ... an elevation platform is needed to prune this every second year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

This week, I have appreciated these gardens as a haven for all of us taking part in the summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. In these balmy summer days, the gardens of Sidney Sussex offer each of us peace, tranquillity and quiet places to be at one with the Creator God and with creation and nature.

And in their own ways, these gardens truly are also reminders of that first Easter and the joys of the Resurrection.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Humble love is an essential weapon

Sister Thecla speaking about the life of Saint Silouan the Athonite in the Monastery of Saint John in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, this morning (Photograph : Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

I spent the day in the Monastery of Saint John in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex. This is my third time to visit this monastery, and I was there today with other participants from the summer school in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

We left Cambridge early in the morning, and drove through the beautiful, sun-kissed flat landscape of East Anglia and its pretty villages to arrive at the monastery in time for the Divine Liturgy, served by a Finnish monk, Father Melchisedec. The Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist was founded over 50 years ago and has grown up around the Old Rectory at Tolleshunt Knights near Maldon.

The monastery is under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, hence the style Stavropegic in its title. The Hegumen or Abbot of the monastery is Archimandrite Kyrill, originally from Australia. This is a mixed community, with about 13 men and about 20 women from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities.

Inside the Resurrection Chapel in the monastery grounds (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

After breakfast with monks and nuns, Sister Thecla, originally from Romania, brought us on a tour of the monastery, including a visit to the first chapel built here by the founder, Father Sophrony, when he arrived from Paris, and told us of the life of his spiritual father, Saint Silouan the Athonite.

Sister Margaret spoke to us in the afternoon about the Passions in the teachings of Father Sophrony. Although Father Sophrony did not originate any new thinking on the passions, he wrote extensively and taught widely on the passions. He got his own knowledge from his discussions with ascetics on Mount Athos, where he lived for 22 years, from confessions, from his spiritual guide, Father Silouan, who had fought against the passions and won, and from his own struggle against the passions, which he described frankly in his books.

She spoke of freedom from passions as an active condition of the soul, of the whole being. It was not an absence, a vacuum, a lack of passions, but the presence of love, Christ living in us.

Control of the passions begins with faith and a sense of the living God. The goal of being freed from the passions is to be filled with Christ. As God is love, so the state of sanctification is a state of love.

She told the story from the Desert Fathers of Saint John the Short-One, who had struggled against his passions. But then he prayed to God for his passions to return because his prayer life had died down. He did not feel as close to God now that his struggles had died down, and he felt he was now missing out on feeling love for the world.

Merely being free of passions is not a sign of being in grace, she said. The focus in the battle against the passions is not on passion but on God, and the more attention there is on God, the more likely we are to be freed from the tensions of the passions.

In the act of practising the Jesus Prayer, we can find we are being attacked by a variety of thought. But when we finish the prayer, the attacks can stop. In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, Saint John Klimakos gives examples of dialogue with the passions, but these are strong souls.

There are many variations on the lists of seven or eight passions. But the main struggle, as Father Sophrony understood it, is against pride. Pride is the source of sin, including conceit, ambition, day-dreaming, fantasies, fear of death or even wanting to put an end to life. But humble love is the essential weapon against the passions.

Saint John Klimakos says heretics cannot learn real humility, because real humility is learned from Christ. When Saint Silouan had his experience of the revelation of Christ, he learned about true humility.

When Saint Silouan had an experience of the revelation of Christ, he learned about true humility ... a wall painting in Saint John’s Monastery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The passions are good energies used in the wrong direction. For example, she said anger should be directed against evil or own sins and not against others. When we talk about self-emptying in Christianity, kenosis>, we talk about being filled with love, and our model is Christ and is based on our understanding of Christ and of God as Trinity.

She summarised her talk in her conclusion that we should use the energies of the passions to love our neighbours and to love God.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

The choir of the chapel of Sidney Sussex College

Patrick Comerford

Each day during the summer school at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, we are taking part in a daily cycle of Morning Prayer and Vespers in the the college chapel. Sadly, there is no opportunity to because term time is over, there is no opportunity to hear the magnificent choir of Sidney Sussex Chapel.

The choir, which is directed by Dr David Skinner, got back to Cambridge last week after a tour of Italy. Between 26 June and 10 July, the choir’s visits included Savignone, Levanto, La Spezia, Pontremoli, Riomaggiore, Florence, Vescovio and – of course – Rome.

Since the appointment of Dr David Skinner as Osborn Director of Music, the Chapel Choir at Sidney Sussex is rapidly becoming one of the finest mixed-voice ensembles in Cambridge. The choir is made up of six to eight sopranos, six to eight altos, six tenors, three baritones, and three basses, and sings the weekly chapel services.

During term time, the choir sings Choral Latin Vespers on Wednesdays and Choral Evensong on Fridays, at 6.45 p.m., followed by Formal Hall on each of those evenings. Choral Evensong at 6.15 p.m. on Sundays is followed by drinks in the Master’s Lodge and Formal Hall

The choir regularly performs at home and abroad and, more recently, has made a niche in making professional recordings for specialist markets, including museums, art galleries, and national libraries. The Choir toured California last year and is visiting Spain, Italy and Austria in 2010. The next tour in the US is planned for 2012.

The choir has three CDs to its name. Last year, the choir recorded the album A Christmas Carol on the Gift of Music label. This 69 minute album includes a selection of traditional Victorian Christmas carols sung by Sidney Sussex Choir with passages from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, read by a former Master of the college, Sir Gabriel Horn.

Earlier in the year, the choir also produced Ludwig Senfl: Missa Paschali, Motetten & Lieder, released by Obsidian Records. Ludwig Senfl (1486-1543) was a leading European composer during the Reformation and a favourite musician of Martin Luther. He was much travelled and for a time was employed by the Emperor Maximilian I. The recording features Senfl’s church and vernacular music, with the cornett and sackbut ensemble QuintEssential, and gothic harpist Andrew Lawrence-King. The recording was made in the cloistered monastery of St Emmeram in Bavarian town of Regensburg during the choir’s tour of Austria and Bavaria.

The album Thomas Tomkins: These Distracted Times was released in 2007 by Obsidian Records.

During the English Civil War of the 17th century, Thomas Tomkins was the greatest composer of his age.

He wrote a pavan for “these distracted times” shortly after the execution of King Charles I in 1649.

This recording provides a mixture of Tomkins’s church and chamber music that soothed troubled souls during these turbulent years.

The recording was made in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, where Cromwell was a student and where it is said his severed head has been buried in the ante-chapel.

Whether or not Cromwell’s head is really buried here, his face illustrates the cover of this CD, and from his portrait he looks down on us benignly each day as we eat in the Hall.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

‘Divine love is a very passionate love’

Dr Sebastian Brock, who introduced some generally unknown Syriac texts this afternoon at the IOCS summer school in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

John the Solitary is a Syriac Father who has only come to the attention of Western scholars in the past few decades, with the publication of his Dialogue on the Soul and the Passions in 1936. A translation by Mary Hansbury is forthcoming, and other works have been translated by Dr Sebastian Brock. Not everything has been published, though, and his identity is unclear, and there is a great deal of confusion about his lifestory.

We were introduced to his writing and thinking this afternoon by Dr Brock, who spoke at the IOCS summer school in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, on “The Passions according to John the Solitary.” At one time, Dr Brock worked with the director of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Professor David Frost on the translation of the Psalms that was used in the Alternative Prayer Book of the Church of Ireland.

Solitary probably means that he was “single-minded,” we were told, but little is known about his background, life or biographical detail, although he lived in the first half of the fifth century, in a time before the Chalcedonian divisions.

John the Solitary, who says that divine love is a very passionate love and that the love of Christ is like a fire than consumes the soul, is the first Syriac writer to write about sufferings in terms of the passions. He clearly knew Greek writings and is a very Hellenised writer, and while his own system of the passions is different from other Greek writings, he bears an interesting comparison with Evagrius.

Although John the Solitary was long unknown to western scholars, he was strongly influential in the Syriac tradition. He sets out a three-fold pattern of the spiritual life: pagrana (of the body), napshana (of the soul) and ruhana (of the spirit). Dr Brock compared these with the Apostle Paul’s three levels or stages in I Corinthians 2-3: σαρκικός (sarkikos), Ψυχικός (psychikos), and πνευματικός pneumatikos).

John the Solitary emphasises on the hope for the post-Resurrection New World, and the fully-lived life there, with Christ dwelling fully in people who are there, and we were introduced too to the theme of the interior or hidden person, which is also dominant in his writings.

John identifies six passions he says are common to human beings and animals: anger, wickedness, love, desire, discrimination, and pride. But people are different from animals in three ways: the nature of the soul, the ability to acquire (spiritual) knowledge, and the possibility of acquiring divine love or the love of God.

John the Solitary distinguishes between those passions that are of the body and those that are of the soul, and writes about the nature of passions at different levels.

Surprisingly, he includes tears or weeping as one of the passions. People who weep in prayer may be recalling past troubles or the departed, or worries over their children, property or oppression. But, at another level, this may reflect a recollection of sins and God’s graces, or worries about death and judgment. But weeping at the level of the spirit can be brought on by wonder at God’s majesty, astonishment at the depths of God’s wisdom and the glory of his coming, or at those who go astray in the world.

In some places, John the Solitary poses a number of puzzles, including ones on the passion of zeal and the passion of anger. Talking about the passion of love, which is naturally present in human beings, he writes about divine love as a very passionate love.

“You are masters of your passions,” he tells his readers. “You can control them, you can direct them.” You cannot begin talking about the love of God unless you love your fellow human beings, he says. The Love of Christ is like a fire than consumes the soul.

Earlier today, Dr Brock spoke to us in the morning on “The ‘Anger’ of God: some thoughts from the Syriac Fathers.” He drew on the writings of Saint Ephrem (right), the poet-theologian of the fourth century, to consider “The ‘Anger’ of God: some thoughts from the Syriac Fathers.”

The idea of a deity that is angry is widespread in all religions, and disasters are often explained by blaming them on the wrath of the deity. In the Hebrew Bible, the wrath and anger of God is often presented as being provoked or as a response to human wrongdoing or sin, but is dealt with in different ways. God’s anger is often seen as being expressed towards his people because of their iniquities or wrongdoings. In the New Testament, it is the Apostle Paul who principally speaks about the wrath of God (see Romans 1: 18).

In the fourth century, Saint Ephrem spoke of a chasm between the Creator and all that is created. This chasm can only be crossed in one direction – by God towards us. If God had not taken that initiative, we would not be able to say anything that is truthful about him.

Saint Ephrem uses images of clothing to describe this revelation of God. So God puts on names, yet they are inadequate and defective, and should not be taken literally. To illustrate this, Dr Brock quoted from one of Saint Ephrem’s poems:

If someone concentrates his attention solely
on the metaphors used of God’s majesty,
that person abuses and misrepresents His majesty
and thus goes astray by means of those metaphors
with which God has clothed Himself for that person’s benefit,
and he is ungrateful to that Grace which stooped low
to the level of his childishness.
Although She has nothing in common with him
yet Grace has clothed Herself in his likeness
in order to bring him to likeness of Herself.
– (Ephrem, Hymns on Paradise 11: 6.)

Although the Syriac Fathers have little to say about the wrath or anger of God, this approach to revelation and scripture allows Saint Ephrem to deal with the question, saying: “There is in His Being neither anger nor repenting. He put on the names of them for the sake of our weakness.” – (Ephrem, Hymns on Faith 31: 1.)

In this, Dr Brock found a useful corrective to Biblical fundamentalism.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.