Thinking allowed

What happens next?

At around 2pm on Tues­day 30 Janu­ary 1649, fol­low­ing a show tri­al and con­vic­tion, King Charles I was executed. It is said that a great moan “as I nev­er heard before and desire I may nev­er hear again” arose from the crowd assembled in White­hall, and the event sent shock­waves around the coun­try and across Europe. It was the most dis­rupt­ive event seen in the coun­try, cer­tainly since Henry Tudor had defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bos­worth to bring a final end to the Wars of the Roses. King Charles had not per­haps been a great king, and his record as ruler is not unblem­ished: his mis­for­tunes at least partly he had brought upon him­self by his stub­borness, and by his view of his role as king by divine right.

And today, 31 Janu­ary 2020, we see anoth­er dis­rupt­ive event. At 11pm this coun­try will form­ally leave the European Uni­on, bring­ing to an end the leg­al rela­tion­ship that began nearly 50 years ago on 1 Janu­ary 1973. It is an event that over the last few years has divided the coun­try, divided fam­il­ies and friends in a way rarely seen. It would have been hard to pre­dict, even five years ago, what would come to pass, and what a bit­ter turn our polit­ic­al sys­tem and polit­ic­al dia­logue would take. But whatever mis­giv­ings many of us will feel, the legis­la­tion is in place, and the deed will hap­pen later today. For many this is a sad and bit­ter day: the European pro­ject in which we have par­ti­cip­ated for half a cen­tury was forged in the after­math of the Second World War. It ori­gin­ated in treat­ies that tied the former war­ring coun­tries, led by France and Ger­many, into trade deals that made them more and more depend­ent on each oth­er, and there­fore so much less likely to go to war again. In the pre­vi­ous 100 years, France and Ger­many had been at war three times, Par­is had twice been occu­pied by Ger­many, and Alsace-Lor­raine had changed coun­try four times. Alsace-Lor­raine and its city of Stras­bourg were a key coal and steel pro­du­cing region, and the EU began as a “coal and steel com­munity”. For 60 years or more the EU and its pre­de­cessors have played an import­ant part in ensur­ing that there was not anoth­er war in west­ern Europe – whilst the trans-Atlantic NATO alli­ance helped pre­vent war with the Soviet Uni­on and its east­ern European satel­lite states. The EU has also played its part in ensur­ing that our ideals of demo­cracy and equal­ity before the law, of free­dom from state oppres­sion and so on have prospered with­in its mem­ber coun­tries. Greece, Por­tugal and Spain, all formerly under the rule of right-wing or mil­it­ary dic­tat­or­ships, were the first to bene­fit from this, their fledgling demo­cra­cies join­ing the Com­munity in the 1980s.  And after the fall of the Soviet Uni­on the coun­tries of east­ern Europe queued up to join the Uni­on, keen for both the eco­nom­ic bene­fits and the sup­port for demo­cracy and rule of law. These bene­fits have not come for free. The EU and its pre­de­cessors have fun­ded the devel­op­ment of poorer parts of Europe, help­ing to remove the social prob­lems that led to polit­ic­al prob­lems. That has meant that the rich­er, more stable coun­tries, such as our own, as well as France and Ger­many and the rich­er north-west­ern fringe have seen a net out­flow of money, of tax rev­en­ue. That is per­haps the price of peace, and is con­sid­er­ably cheap­er both fin­an­cially and in terms of human lives than war would have been. But over­all there has been a longer peri­od of peace between these coun­tries than at any time in the past, and a great­er and pro­longed peri­od of eco­nom­ic prosper­ity, des­pite vari­ous hic­cups along the way.

So what happens next?

We know what happened after the exe­cu­tion of Charles I.

In the imme­di­ate after­math, Par­lia­ment, led by Crom­well, refused to allow the pro­clam­a­tion of the Prince of Wales as King Charles II, and instead declared the abol­i­tion of the mon­archy. A repub­lic­an form of gov­ern­ment, the “Com­mon­wealth”, was put in place, the House of Lords abol­ished, and bish­ops removed. The rump of the Long Par­lia­ment (which had engin­eered the king’s tri­al and exe­cu­tion) con­tin­ued to sit. That Par­lia­ment had been elec­ted in 1640, before the Civil War, though at the end of 1648 the Army, led by Col­on­el Pride, had expelled those mem­bers that did not sup­port the Army. In 1653, Crom­well ejec­ted this Rump Par­lia­ment and the coun­try essen­tially became a kind of mil­it­ary dic­tat­or­ship, with Oliv­er Crom­well, the lead­er of the Army, as the strongman.

In 1659, after Oliv­er Crom­well had died, there was finally a reac­tion. The Long Par­lia­ment was restored, and it called for a return to mon­archy. After a peri­od of nego­ti­ation, in May 1660 the eld­est son of Charles I returned to Eng­land from exile in the Neth­er­lands, and was pro­claimed and crowned as King Charles II. The restored mon­archy was not quite the same as that which had been abol­ished in 1649, and Charles II under­stood the lim­its with­in which he ruled. It had taken 11 years from the exe­cu­tion of his fath­er until the Res­tor­a­tion, and many of those years must have been dark and dif­fi­cult for the exiled prince, and dark and dif­fi­cult for his sup­port­ers back in Bri­tain. But even­tu­ally they pre­vailed, and the repub­lic­an Com­mon­wealth was con­signed to his­tory, a mere foot­note in the list of Kings and Queens.

Will some­thing sim­il­ar hap­pen? Will there be a peri­od in which this coun­try gradu­ally comes to see that it has made an enorm­ous mis­take, lead­ing even­tu­ally to a reas­sess­ment of our pos­i­tion, and finally a sig­ni­fic­ant major­ity to want to rejoin the European Uni­on? That is my hope and expect­a­tion. Maybe it will take a dec­ade or more, just as it took a dec­ade or so for the mon­archy to be restored in 1660. It does take time to make such a major change in polit­ic­al dir­ec­tion, and right now we are mov­ing on the oppos­ite course.

But the dark day of 30 Janu­ary 1649 held the prom­ise of res­tor­a­tion. And this dark day too, 31 Janu­ary 2020, holds that prom­ise also.



body, mind ... and soul

Anoth­er fas­cin­at­ing pro­gramme in Melvyn Bragg’s almost-always enlight­en­ing In Our Time — the last of the cur­rent series. This one con­sidered ‘the mind/body prob­lem’, start­ing with Descartes’ fam­ous quo­ta­tion, cogito ergo sum, and then tra­cing the his­tory of this philosphic­al and theo­lo­gic­al ques­tion from Ancient Greece, through Thomas Aqui­nas, Bish­op Berke­ley, Spinoza, Hux­ley and through to the mod­ern day (though I missed the very end — I’ll have to listen again.)


connecting with culture

If you’re not famil­i­ar with the Lon­don Insti­tute of Con­tem­por­ary Chris­tian­ity then I sug­gest you take a look. Amongst oth­er things they have a weekly com­ment column entitled Con­nect­ing with Cul­ture which is always worth a read.

This week Nick Spen­cer writes about an infam­ous advert­ising slo­gan and the mar­ket­ing of a fash­ion chain, with import­ant les­sons about the lim­its of self-expres­sion in a free society.


Unity, Rome and all that

Today the Week of Pray­er for Chris­ti­an Unity begins. In some Anglic­an cal­en­dars (though not in Eng­land) this date, 18 Janu­ary, would nor­mally be the feast of the Con­fes­sion of St Peter. The Week of Pray­er ends next Sunday, 25 Janu­ary, a date kept as the feast of the Con­ver­sion of St Paul.

The Con­fes­sion of Peter is kept on a date observed in the cal­en­dar of the Roman Cath­ol­ic Church as ‘the Chair of Peter’, which com­mem­or­ates the arrival of Peter in Rome, the date from which Roman Cath­ol­ics account him as the first Bish­op of Rome, the first Pope (the ‘Chair’ is the cathedra, or chair from which a bish­op teaches in their cathed­ral church — the tra­di­tion­al Chair of St Peter is enshrined in a mag­ni­fi­cent baroque monu­ment by Bern­ini at the west end of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vat­ic­an). This feast has been com­mem­or­ated in Rome from the earli­est times, and the gos­pel read­ing for the day is tra­di­tion­ally the acclam­a­tion by Peter of Jesus as the Mes­si­ah, the Son of the liv­ing God (Mat­thew 16.16). It is this con­fes­sion of faith which gives its name to the feast as com­mem­or­ated by some Anglicans.

The Con­ver­sion of Paul, of course, com­mem­or­ates the event described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9.1–9), where Paul, jour­ney­ing to Dam­as­cus to per­se­cute the early Chris­ti­ans, is way­laid by a blind­ing light, and called to serve Christ, whom he has been persecuting.

These two days, the Con­fes­sion of Peter and the Con­ver­sion of Paul, brack­et the Week of Pray­er for Chris­ti­an Unity. As Paul’s con­ver­sion reminds us that we are united in a call to pro­claim Jesus among the nations, so Peter’s con­fes­sion reminds us that we are united in pro­claim­ing the inspired know­ledge of Jesus Christ ‘the Son of the liv­ing God’.

Dur­ing the Week of Pray­er I shall be spend­ing some time in Rome. I hope to be able to pray at the tomb of St Peter, and to vis­it also the basilica of St Paul. Here are some of the ancient memori­als of the Chris­ti­an faith. I hope also to be present at an audi­ence with the Pope, the Bish­op of Rome. Even though Anglic­ans are not in com­mu­nion with the See of Rome, it is that unity — along with unity with our oth­er sep­ar­ated broth­ers and sis­ters — for which we pray most espe­cially next week.

As Anglic­ans, we have long con­sidered ourselves to rep­res­ent the Via Media. His­tor­ic­ally this has meant the ‘middle way’ between the ‘extremes’ of Geneva and Rome, between extreme Prot­est­ant­ism and extreme pap­al­ism. Over the last hun­dred years or so it has per­haps been expressed in the Lam­beth Quad­ri­lat­er­al, emphas­ising our gath­er­ing around the fourfold points of the bible (as con­tain­ing all things neces­sary to sal­va­tion), the sac­ra­ments of bap­tism and the euchar­ist, the liturgy of the Book of Com­mon Pray­er, and gov­ern­ment by bish­ops, suit­ably adap­ted to dif­fer­ent places. We have, per­haps, seen ourselves as a pos­sible mod­el of unity without uni­form­ity, a com­mu­nion of self-gov­ern­ing Churches, not behold­en to one anoth­er, nor gov­erned by one anoth­er, each express­ing the essen­tials of the Chris­ti­an faith in its own area. Each Church too has provided ways in which the bish­op of a dio­cese can take coun­sel with rep­res­ent­at­ives of all their people, laity and clergy alike. This was an import­ant part of the Eng­lish Reform­a­tion, led by the bish­ops and enacted by the people in Par­lia­ment, and it was a prin­ciple fur­ther developed by the Amer­ic­an Church, and then in syn­od­ic­al gov­ern­ment in New Zea­l­and and else­where. All these have been import­ant con­tri­bu­tions by Anglic­ans to our under­stand­ing of the Church — both of our own Church and as a vis­ion of a wider, united Church. Unity not uniformity.

In our time we seem to be strain­ing at the bonds of unity which tie us to each oth­er, to our bish­ops and to the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury. In this Week of Pray­er for Chris­ti­an Unity let us not for­get to pray for all our fel­low Anglic­ans — that our com­mu­nion may not be frag­men­ted — as well as for reunion with those with whom we are not cur­rently in communion.

May we all be one, that the world may believe.


spiritual hunger

In an art­icle ‘Spir­itu­al spend­ing’ costs women £670m a year in today’s Daily Tele­graph (free regis­tra­tion required, fake details okay!), a num­ber of ‘altern­at­ive’ forms of spir­itu­al­ity are lis­ted, includ­ing reflex­o­logy, acu­punc­ture, mas­sage, reiki, and so on. Appar­ently women are spend­ing a lot of time and money on these ‘to com­bat the stress of mod­ern life’. Chris­tian­ity and oth­er reli­gions don’t even get a mention.

As has been sug­ges­ted by oth­ers, there does seem to be a hun­ger for spir­itu­al­ity that the mod­ern world doesn’t oth­er­wise sup­ply. I won­der what it is that these new age tech­niques provide that is lack­ing in Chris­tian­ity? Or, con­trari­wise, what is it about Chris­tian­ity that is unwel­come? Com­mit­ment per­haps? An accom­pa­ny­ing social mes­sage? Or is it ‘post-imper­i­al­ism’ — Chris­tian­ity hav­ing ruled the roost in the west for so long, many people would rather look else­where, or per­haps don’t see any­thing par­tic­u­larly spir­itu­al about the faith­ful few at their loc­al church? Per­haps they want to asso­ci­ate with people of a sim­il­ar age and don’t find that (or think they won’t) at the church either?