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100 years ago: Error of the broken column

24 November 2023

November 23rd, 1923.

THE Vicar of Hook, in Surrey, we learn from the Manchester Guardian, has protested against the placing of a broken marble column over the grave of a famous airman in the churchyard, thinking it to be the heathenish symbol of a career broken off untimely. It is news to us that anyone should now desire to place that particular symbol in a churchyard, for though it may occasionally be found fresh and new in cemeteries and chapel graveyards, Churchmen have passed beyond the stage of artlessness and incomplete faith in which such things appeared desirable. The Manchester Guardian has some mild criticism for the vicar. It does not cogently support its case by citations from the Old Testament writers, whose conception of the life beyond death was unilluminated by the further revelation in Christ; but it allows that a serious objection to broken columns is that they are inartistic. It goes on to say, quite gravely, that “the Vicar of Hook is a Welsh Rugby International, so that his views on any point of theology or art would naturally carry weight with a sport-loving nation,” and suggests to him that “before starting to sway the judgment of listening multitudes, he should go fully into . . . the Christian and pre-Christian history of religious symbols.” Since we are not pre-Christians, only Christian precedents can be held to bind us, and to them we need not fear appeal. The teaching of all early Christian symbols and epitaphs is that life is not ended by death, as the broken column suggests.

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