Friday, 16 June 2017

No Smooth Faith

Usually I go to visit my spiritual director in the afternoon, but our date yesterday was fixed for 11 so from Mattins I had to tear across the rail bridge from the church to catch the train, panting and gasping after my recent bug (on Wednesday I could barely drag myself out of bed, and Ms Formerly Aldgate has had three days off work this week - we share these things, you see). S.D. is fine and we actually discussed some vaguely spiritual matters as well as the discomfiture of the Government, the unsustainability of the Church's position on same-sex relationships, and the Grunewald Altarpiece, which he has just seen. We didn't touch on the Kensington fire and its aftermath, but the site is two bare miles from where we were sitting - even though London miles seem longer than miles anywhere else because they have so much crammed into them, I felt oddly aware of that smoking ruin.

On the train I'd been reading Dame Felicitas Corrigan's biography of Helen Waddell, someone I will be talking about here quite soon. Dame Felicitas deals with the generally ecstatic reception given to Waddell's 1933 novel Peter Abelard. One passage of the book, where Abelard the theologian finally learns the nature of the Atonement through a dying rabbit caught in a trap, has found its way into Christian spiritual writing. But that's by-the-by for now. One of the most perceptive critics of the book, says Dame Felicitas, was the German Catholic writer Ida Gorres, of whom I had never heard and whose work I'm now going to have to find out more about. Gorres had an extraordinary background: her father was an Austro-Hungarian count and her mother the daughter of an antiques dealer in Tokyo, and they met after Count Heinrich, then on the Austrian diplomatic mission in Japan, fell off his horse outside the shop and Mitsuko came to help him (Helen Waddell had grown up in Japan where her father was a missionary). 

In the 1950s Gorres was railing against the prevailing style of Catholic apologetics, which attempted at every point to tie all truth together, to pretend that everything was done and dusted, to deny all ambiguities, contradictions and lacunae:

The corpus of Catholic opinion mustn't be like a sack full of balls and glass marbles, all smoothly rounded, for these just roll away in all directions and get lost: it must rather consist of sharp-edged bits, which can be fitted together to form a mosaic ... [no art work need be] a compendium of every truth in the catechism. All the difference between false completeness and true wholeness.

Years ago, when I had to do my little personal profile for the LGMG, I said that 'the jagged edges of things' were what interested me most. God is perfect and whole, but as we are limited we can never comprehend all of him: instead, as far as we are concerned, we find him most in the jagged lines, the broken fragments, the sharp-edged bits of things. 

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