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Faith Finding a Voice by Vincent Nichols

29 June 2018

Catherine Pepinster considers writings from Westminster

PUBLICATION of Vincent Nichols’s Faith Finding A Voice coincided with the appearance of Justin Welby’s Reimagining Britain. The reception of the two books could not have been more different. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s work enjoyed reams of coverage; the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster’s has been little noticed.

In many ways, this replicates their standing in society: the Anglican leader garners plenty of headlines, while the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is a quieter operator, spending a good deal of his time in Rome, where he sits on various Vatican bodies. With the notable exception of Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishops of Westminster have always had more of a “keep beneath the parapet” approach; a leftover, I suspect, from the days of persecution in this country.

Given Reimagining Britain’s focus on community which leads Welby to draw on Catholic Social Teaching, and its emphasis on solidarity and the common good, one might have thought there would be considerable overlap. Nichols certainly devotes a great deal of space to the importance of caritas, or charity, emphasising that Christian faith finds a voice in service as much as in worship.

It is a shame that he does not explore here two causes that he has championed: the combating of human trafficking, and the revival of business ethics. Instead, the main thrust of this volume is an exploration of God in people’s lives, with a focus on Catholic spirituality and orthodox teaching. Rather than a discourse on contemporary society, it is a work of apologetics.

A serious drawback of Faith Finding A Voice is that, despite the introduction’s attempt to find a common thread, it is a hotchpotch of previous writings, lectures, and homilies. It is a shame that Bloomsbury did not give Nichols an entirely new commission; for there are sections of this book which hint at the potential for something really interesting. The section on the mystery of Christ, featuring meditations on the altarpiece The Nativity of Saints by Pietro Orioli, is a case in point. Orioli puts an ox centre stage in his nativity scene, and, Nichols says, it is a challenge to us, a reminder of our responsibility to all living things. “The truth is here proclaimed that the incarnation is a redemptive act for the whole universe,” he writes.

mazur/catholicnews.org.ukThe day after his elevation to Cardinal in 2014, Archbishop Nichols (left) greets Pope Francis outside the Domus Sanctae Marthae in Rome

A section of the book is devoted to education, and particularly to the writings of John Henry Newman. While politicians continually emphasise targets and league tables, it is refreshing to read Nichols championing a much broader vision of education, rooted in service. Schools and universities, he says, should help students think about “what is means to be a human being . . . to prompt in every student a commitment to the building of a better society”.

Nichols also admires the Jewish writer Etty Hillesum, who ended her days in Auschwitz, and he devotes space to her work as part of his discourse on interfaith dialogue. The Church, he writes, “is open to all that is holy and true in other religions”. But there is nothing here on ecumenism, including no commentary on women’s ordination in other denominations. Nichols always got on well with the previous Bishop of London, Richard Chartres; so it will be ecumenically intriguing to see if he will develop a similar partnership with the new Bishop of London.

Catherine Pepinster, a former editor of The Tablet, is UK Development Officer of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

Faith Finding a Voice
Vincent Nichols
Bloomsbury £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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