Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Nought for our comfort

Over twenty years ago when I was still living in Pontefract and was Parish Clerk at St Giles it fell to me to be the narrator of the Passion for Palm Sunday.

Reading through the text so as to deliver it as well as I could I was struck by the thought that in the Passion of Our Lord every system of government is itself found wanting.

Thus the Theocracy of Ciaphas and Annas and the Sadducees around the Temple cult is found wanting. So is the Monarchy of Herod, and so is the Imperialism, colonialism and military rule represented by Pilate and the Romans.

Even more worrying to modern eyes and ears, not least those of some liberal theologians, not to mention political demagogues, Democracy is found wanting in the cries of the crowd of "Crucify him!" Their idea of "Liberation theology" was somewhat lacking in understanding. So too, I more than suspect, is the liberal assimilation of the Christian message to contemporary mores, reducing it to no more than, well, being "nice" to other people, without ever pointing out that the ensuing relativism and social and moral fragmentation that ensues.

We can understand why those particular representitives of those systems, the Priests and their attendant aristocratic connections, the King, the Governor and the Mob acted as they did - they "knew not what they did." It does not vitiate their particular functions. It does however show them to be found wanting in their exercise of power, and for that to be happen potentially with any form of human governance.

This leads me to further reflection. Given that we do not all live as Desert Fathers or contemplatives untouched by the world, and indeed that there is such a Thing as Society, and Christians are certainly called to believe in that society or body which is the Church, this is sobering. The more so as we have the Dominical statement that His Kingdom is not of this world. This world offers us challenges and problems that have to be dealt with as Christians, or, for that matter, non-Christians.

So we have to get on and face the fact that all systems are fallible, as they were shown to be in first century Palestine. What we have to do is attempt to make them as close as we can to the Divine Will and model, knowing that as fallen beings we shall never achieve Heaven on earth or by our own efforts. That, incidentally, makes me wonder if those who become politicians in the modern world mean becoming Pelagian? Given the fallen nature of the world does not, however, mean that we are not called upon to try, and to seek a model that accords, however falteringly, with the Divine order. To do that we have, of course, to discern the Divine plan. Which takes us back to the Church and to prayer.

This little insight has stayed with me these twenty odd years. Some might thnk it reveals my pessimistic streak, but I am inclined to see it as being realistic.


  1. John,

    This is a very good post. Do I have your permission to post a link to it on my Facebook wall?