The cardinal who took on Whitehall
By the Thames Divided BY MARK VICKERS, GRACEWING, £25
There is a common saying that one should never judge a book by its cover. I would like to suggest one might usefully judge this book by its title and subtitle, “Cardinal Bourne in Southwark and Westminster”. They are inspired because Cardinal Bourne’s long episcopate was exercised both as Bishop of Southwark and Archbishop of Westminster. I believe that London is the only major city of the world that has two archdioceses. When Bourne was appointed he was the youngest bishop in the country. His ministry as archbishop, from 1903 to 1935, has been the longest in the history of the Westminster diocese, and so Mark Vickers’s magnum opus is an essential read for anyone who is interested in the history of the Church in this country.
His subject was a fascinating and intriguing character: pugnacious at times with his fellow bishops, but infinitely caring for anyone in genuine pastoral need. He was certainly courageous in confronting the governments of his day, and was a gifted administrator.
There are many Catholic institutions and organisations that are still indebted to Bourne for the foundations and principles he established, not least Westminster Cathedral itself. It is good that this exhaustive biography has appeared a century after the cardinal’s ministry in this land.
The book is a labour of love and sound scholarship, and is eminently readable. It benefits greatly from the fact that the author is an historian with a legal background; hence his research and analysis are meticulous.
My only slight criticism is that the book would have benefited from a thorough proofreading.
An understanding of the history of the Church is always valuable and gives a useful perspective on present events. As one reads through the book one cannot help but think how eirenic matters are now in comparison with then. Bishops, priests, seminarians and parishioners would learn a great deal by reading this excellent biography, which is long overdue. Canon Daniel Cronin
32 CATHOLIC HERALD, DECEMBER 5 2014
The Formation of Christian Europe by Owen Phelan (OUP, £65). In eighth- and ninth-century western Europe, baptism was identified as an ideal societal building block. While the “Carolingian Renewal” fizzled out, it left behind a fundamental organising principle that would endure for centuries: European society was to be understood as a community of baptised Christians. This scholarly but accessible volume makes major contributions to the history of baptism and ritual, and it is nice to see Alcuin of York, one of Charlemagne’s advisers, receiving the level of attention he deserves.
The Oxford Handbook of Luther’s Theology edited by R Kolb (OUP, £95). This is a magnificent book. Luther is placed in medieval context. We learn about his encounters with subjects as diverse as sin, evil, penance and ecclesiology, and we are reminded that biblical exegesis was at the heart of his project. The chapters on “sanctified living”, which explore Luther’s attitudes towards inter alia, sexuality, family life and politics, are wonderful. They are only trumped by the final section on how Luther’s thought has been interpreted through the ages – by, for example, Enlightenment bigwigs, Marxists and contemporary Christians in Africa and Asia.
The Gentle Assassin by Ryan David Jahn (Pan, £7.99). Ryan David Jahn has made a name for himself carving out lean, intelligent crime novels. His debut, Acts of Violence, focused on the Kitty Genovese killing and the bystander effect. His most recent novel, The Last Tomorrow, dealt with the banning of comic books in 1950s America. The Gentle Assassin, however, is far more concerned with redemption than violence. A son tracks down his missing father, a retired contract killer who has been in hiding for 20 years. The son believes his father killed his mother. This is a brilliant account of family dynamics, the weight of guilt and the repercussions of history.
Holloway by Robert Macfarlane and Dan Richards (Faber, £7.99). This strange and beguiling book delves into littleknown areas of the British countryside: the old paths and throughways created by centuries of foot travel, now tented and obscured by foliage. Using Geoffrey Household’s seminal thriller Rogue Male as a guide book, the authors try to find the hideaway described in the novel, in deepest Dorset. With digressions on the recusant heritage of the land and descriptions of topography and grief, this very short (30-page) essay is delightfully accompanied by stark black and white illustrations by Stanley Donwood, which make it a perfect stocking filler.
History of Christian Dogma by Ferdinand Christian Baur (OUP, £65). Baur, who was a professor of theology at Tübingen from 1826 to 1860, used Hegelian themes in his historical analyses of Christian dogma. In a nutshell, he identified a process of conflict and resolution that enabled the articulation of Christian thinking from the ancient to the modern era. If you have any sense, you will disagree with the fundaments of Baur’s thought, much as you should recoil from the basics of Hegel’s overarching philosophical vision, but this does not preclude admiration.