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22 August 2014

THE Revd Dr Malcolm France, who died on 6 July, aged 85, trained for ordination at Westcott House, Cambridge, and was ordained priest in 1956.

His first curacy was at St Mary-le-Tower, Ipswich. In 1958, he moved to Bradford diocese, as Vicar of Esholt with Hawksworth, and then, in 1964, became Chaplain of the new University of Essex, where he remained in post until 1973, and obtained a doctorate in 1975.

After ten years in Chichester diocese without a cure, he moved to Norwich diocese as Priest-in-Charge of Starston from 1987 to 1993.

The Revd Peter Haynes writes: Dr France was an author and theologian, as well as a priest.

On Good Friday evening in 1963, I returned to my curate's house in Portsmouth, tired after a full day of Anglo-Catholic liturgy, when I heard Malcolm's voice on the BBC Third Programme, giving a 15-minute Good Friday meditation. It was electrifying. Called "The Transfiguration of Evil", it was later enlarged and published as a book, The Paradox of Guilt (Hodder & Stoughton, 1967).

The cliché "the light of the Cross" comes alive for me from that broadcast, and from that book. In 1973, when I was working as a priest in Brussels, Malcolm and his wife came to stay with us for a weekend. We had bought 12 copies of the book for a Lent project, and Malcolm attended the discussion, and then preached at the eucharist the following morning.

Briefly, Malcolm focuses on the silence of the Cross. A human infant builds a sense of identity from its first communications with its mother, through her eyes, her touch, and her milk. Such communications can encourage the growth of a human personality, able to smile back to the mother, and to feel good and affirmed and loved in return.

A real alternative is for the infant to be handled as a doll, or a thing, to be smiled at or shouted at, to be made to feel dirty, and to be not a person but a thing. The baby cannot attribute such feelings to its mother, and so blames itself. Self-hatred then develops with feelings of guilt, which are then projected on to the world around it.

On the Cross, Jesus bears the guilt and hatred, and is pinned up on a cross, like a thing. But there is no kind of condemnation, only acceptance. And the character of Sonia in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is cited as an example of a so-called guilty person bearing the blame of others.

I believe that Malcolm went on to develop his thinking about human identity and Christian belief in vital ways. His passing deserves our attention, and thanks for a priestly life.

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