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?