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, 26 October 2013

Roger Scruton on Language and Liturgy

Last night I went to a meeting of the Prayer Book Society at Pusey House to hear Prof. Roger Scruton speak on the topic of Liturgy and Language.

The Ursell Room was packed out to hear what Prof Scruton had to say and his talk was followed by questions and discussion.

In effect describing himself as someone who had come to find in the settled phrases and rhythms of the Bookof Common Prayer a spiritual path the Professor, not surprisingly given his well known and robust defence of traditional values and ideas, as well as his audience, stressed the importance of that high register language deliberately chosen by Cranmer, consolidated by its reissue in 1662 and hallowed by constant use which characterises the BCP. Such language aquires an aura, and conveys meaning by more than literalism. That depth of meaning was in one sense beyond the power of words and acquired alife and being of its own. It is noble language used in a noble aim, the worship of Almighty God.To that end he quoted Philip Larkin writing of religion as a "serious thing on serious ground." Such language can and should convey meaning beyond the conscious to the depths of the soul.

The retention of such serious, charged language was important to convey fundamental and unchanging truths to present and subsequent generations, that the words carried meaning beyond their linguistic and academic ones, opening up the mind and spirit to the Infinite. Prof. Scruton clearly implied that  his view could be broadened to include the concept that the same principle could be applied to the Roman Missal of 1570 and its successive reissues down to 1962.

Amongst the many questions and commends I was particularly struck by one from an academic who was raised as a Catholic and who, when he had worked in Japan had found modern Catholic worship offered by western chaplains dull and uninspiring. Together with those same chaplains he had visited Buddhist shrines, with their elaborate and beautiful worship amidst clouds on incense, at which they had all been entranced. Nonetheless on return to the chaplaincy the to him uninspired liturgy of modern Catholicism had resumed Sunday by Sunday. The importance and need for the beautiful in the externals of holiness failed to make an impact. The result - the academic who told us this had, in consequence, given up on Catholicism and become a High Anglican, because they did the liturgy better.

This was talk which was about a much debated issue, but still a valuable set of thoughts from an intellectual, on a topic of concern to Anglicans and Catholics in respect of their liturgical books, and what they are saying.

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