Letters to the Editor

by
18 October 2019

Brexit and the Bishops’ leadership, Pseudonymity in relation to the Pauline epistles, and getting the measure of a Minster in square metres

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Brexit and the Bishops’ leadership

From Dr Jonathan Chaplin

Sir, — I am grateful for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s clarification (News, 11 October) of the troublingly ambiguous claim, made in the College of Bishops’ statement, that the 2016 referendum must be “honoured”. To “honour” the result is, he says, “not to sign up to Brexit at any cost”. Indeed, he endorses the open letter opposing no deal issued by 25 diocesan bishops in August. Nor is it to imply that the bishops “have aligned themselves with any particular political party, faction or wing within a party”. Those points are well taken.

But his clarification still leaves entirely open the question where the Bishops stand on Brexit itself and on the procedure by which it was arrived at. Since the referendum campaign, the Bishops have issued no authoritative collective statement on the merits of, or route to, Brexit. No doubt, this is partly because, given their calling to be a “focus of unity” in their dioceses, they wish to avoid exacerbating political divisions. Yet this did not stop most of them endorsing the Church’s extremely controversial official stance on same-sex marriage in 2013.

I suspect that a more important reason for the chronic collective episcopal hesitancy on the most momentous national trauma of our generation is the Bishops’ lack of confidence in the rich resources of theological and ethical reflection in Anglican and other Christian traditions which can speak to it: on representation, democracy, constitutionalism, justice, sovereignty, national identity, international solidarity, and more.

Such resources might not have yielded a straightforward answer to the referendum’s binary question. But these could at least have enabled the Bishops (drawing on suitable theological and political expertise) to identify and illuminate the deeper ethical, political, and spiritual questions at stake in Brexit, and thereby to contribute to a much more truthful and honest debate than the risible one we all had to endure.

The Bishops issued an admirable pastoral letter, Who is My Neighbour?, before the 2015 General Election. Given that Brexit, whatever its immediate outcome, will continue to fuel acrimonious divisions in our national life for years to come, it is not too late for the Bishops to gather up their theological confidence and dare to be the “teachers of the Church” again. That is a necessary first step before they can presume to offer themselves as “reconcilers of the nation”.

JONATHAN CHAPLIN
Co-editor, God and the EU
19 Coles Lane, Oakington
Cambridge CB24 3AF

 

From Deacon Dr David Clark

Sir, — Many of the correspondents (11 October) objecting to your excellent leader (Comment, 4 October) miss the point. From a Christian perspective, the issue is not who managed to win a “democratic” vote, even if that had been by a much larger majority. The issue is whether the choices before us accord with the meaning and demands of the Kingdom of God. The bottom line is not the ever suspect “will of the people”; nor is it, ultimately, whether our economy will go into free fall.

The benchmark for me is that the Kingdom is about building bridges, not walls, creating a nation that offers a welcome, not hostility, to “strangers”, and facilitates co-operation and inclusiveness, not competition and exclusiveness. Of course, the European Union has made many mistakes. But that is all the more reason that seeking to make its founding vision of a reconciled, peaceful, and just Europe a reality accords with the message of the Kingdom; contracting out does not.

The fundamental and, frankly, lamentable failure of the the Bishops’ leadership is not just in pursuing an impossible and destructive compromise. It is not grasping that the coming of the Kingdom means rejecting decisions, however “democratic”, that in any way hinder Christ’s commandment to his followers to work for the creation of one world and, as the means of that imperative, one Church.

DAVID CLARK
Hill View, Burton Close Drive
Bakewell DE45 1BG

 

Don’t fall for the ‘divine spy camera in the sky’ 

From the Revd Dr Philip Goggin

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s suggestion that society would benefit from the idea of a “divine spy camera in the sky” (Comment, 11 October), taking up Richard Dawkins’s apparent suggestion that this could be a small positive for religion, seems problematic. She plays into the hands of those who would reduce religion to a form of social control or, at best, a means of social cohesion, and the proposal raises a range of difficult ethical questions. Moreover, faith surely cannot sit comfortably with acting out of fear and submission; in any case, it seems improbable that in our own day this idea could work.

Perhaps the “sky camera” idea could be reframed as follows.

Most people sense that there could be moral absolutes. They have a moral conscience, or at least a presumption that ethical issues are significant. They have the “sense of accountability one to another” which Canon Tilby mentions. This is where the idea of the “sky camera” comes in. It may be thought to have traction, or at least to have had it in the past, because of this moral awareness. It is arguably less fanciful to infer that this moral awareness points to the existence of a God who gave us this moral compass, than to suppose it can be explained in naturalistic scientific terms.

If that idea can be presented and defended, we have a reason for turning to religion — not just the Christian religion — for wisdom and inspiration in judging right from wrong (a far cry, by the way, from dogmatic claims to truth). Our schools — through assemblies or collective worship, religious education, and other means — can be seen as attempting to achieve this. Supporting the schools would be a much more promising way forward.

PHILIP GOGGIN
St Peter’s Vicarage
Middlewich Road
Minshull Vernon
Crewe CW1 4RD

 

The Channel Islands and their bishop in 1940 

From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne

Sir, — Winchester diocese’s ceding episcopal care for the Channel Islands (News, 11 October) brought to mind an earlier severance. In spring 1940, when German forces threatened the Low Countries, the elderly Bishop of Winchester, Cyril Garbett, though suffering from severe depression, sped around the Islands taking as many confirmations as possible. Having taken three confirmations on Whit Sunday, he hopped back to the mainland by mail plane to attend an emergency session of the House of Lords as Churchill took office. He little realised that ten years would elapse before his next visit to the Islands.

As France fell, Garbett had to be dissuaded from returning to the Channel Islands to care for his flock. Instead, the Home Office managed to clear a phone line for him to have seven minutes each with the Islands’ two Deans. He sternly instructed them that clergy were to remain in their posts, hiding their church plate and registers. They were to prepare candidates for confirmation, but then admit them, unconfirmed, to holy communion. He assured the clergy and people of his prayers, and then asked each Dean to kneel by his phone as, weeping, he gave them his episcopal blessing for the duration.

Eighty years on, I trust the handover to a Salisbury diocese more benign than the Nazi hordes will be a little less stressful.

DAVID WILBOURNE
8 Bielby Close, Newby
Scarborough YO12 6UU

 

Pseudonymity in relation to the Pauline epistles 

From Dr Henk Carpentier Alting

Sir, — The Revd Andrew Hunt (11 October) thinks that I, with a particular corner of the Church, have failed to absorb the fruits of 200 years of biblical scholarship, “whether through laziness, ignorance, or plain stupidity” — ouch! He makes the point that pseudonymity, where writers attribute their works to others, belonged to the literary conventions of the day and would not have been considered deceitful.

While there are examples of honouring a revered master and no one’s being deceived, the overall context was more complex. A thriving market meant that a pseudonymous work under a prestigious name might fetch a better price or be more effective to propagate particular ideas on a subject. Hence, there was also wariness towards pseudonymity. The Church more than shared that wariness, given the importance of authoritative documents as truth. The many post-apostolic pseudonymous works show that such concern was justified. Since writers would have known the Church’s rejection of pseudonymity, a degree of deception was inevitable, regardless of other worthy intentions. I tried to make that point.

Mr Hunt rightly notes that there are linguistic peculiarities in the Pastorals. Why might that be? E. R. Richards, in Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, argues that St Paul’s approach to letter-writing was very different to ours. “Any discussion must seriously consider the role of co-authors and secretaries, as well as heavy use of preformed traditional material in the Pastorals.” Possible co-authors would be fellow-workers present with Paul who were involved in discussions that shaped a letter and, to some extent, the language used. Richards summarises that many of the arguments supporting pseudonymity can be explained by common practices in first-century letter-writing.

While not conclusive that St Paul took final authorial responsibility for the canonical letters in his name, these are plausible reasons for us to accept that he did so.

HENK CARPENTIER ALTING
30 Buckingham Road West
Heaton Moor, Stockport SK4 4BA

 

Getting the measure of a Minster — in square metres 

From the Revd Jeremy Fletcher

Sir, — Your report about pews and Hull Minster (News, 11 October) mentioned in passing that the former Holy Trinity, Hull, is “the largest parish church in England”.

The 2016 Historic England report Sustaining Major Parish Churches included details of the size of each church in square metres. The largest is Beverley Minster (3489), followed by Christchurch Priory (2815) and Great Yarmouth Minster (2752). Hull Minster comes in at 2473.

Size is, of course, not everything, and the Minsters of Beverley and Hull continue to support each other greatly in their distinctive ministries. But, as a contributor to the 2016 report, and at that time the Vicar of Beverley Minster, I did rather enjoy claiming top spot on this particular scale.

JEREMY FLETCHER
14 Church Row
London NW3 6UU

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