Page 8, 22nd October 1999

22nd October 1999
Page 8
Page 8, 22nd October 1999 — George, just be yourself

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Locations: Canterbury


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George, just be yourself

Brian Brindley is impressed by the content of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Millennium Message, but wonders why it had to be written in ghastly Blairspeak

Jesus 2000: The Archbishop of Canterbury's Millennium Message . by George Carey, HarperCollins

Till: COMEDIAN GEORGE ROBEY would come on stage dressed as an unfrocked parson and announce portentously "I 'hall now read you the Archbishop of Canterbury's address". Unfolding a large piece of paper, he would .. continue "Lambeth Palace, SE I".

Then he would fold up the paper and that was all. The vagaries of English Church history have made the Arch' bishop of Canterbury into alterius orbis Papa, expected from time to time to speak words of significance to the nation and indeed to the whole of that indeterminate body the Anglican Communion, though without being able to lay claim to the same author' ity as the papacy.

Alas for such expectations! Few holders of that office are remembered for their utterances. Randall Davidson is remembered for failing to revise the Prayer Book, William Temple for his tragically early death which prevented him from fulfilling his ' promise, Geoffrey Fisher for going to see Pope John XXIII, Michael Ramsey for his personal holiness and appearance of great age. Poor Lords Coggan and Runcie must surely wish 'that there was something for which they will be remembered. Only Cosmo 'Gordon Lang is remembered, and Unfairly execrated, for his words in ' the broadcast on the morrow of the abdication. ' . Dr George Carey must have been , aware that, in writing The Archbishop 1. ' of Canterbury's Millennium Message, he was making his bid for posterity, as well as trying to do something useful for the present day. He has had bad tuck with the press and with many of his co-religionists, gaining a reputation for making gaffes worthy of Sir John bielgud himself; at times these have been attributable to ill-advised extemporisations, but at others to a curious ' insensitivity to the deeply-held convictions of other people: one thinks of his apparent condemnation of those opposed to the ordination of women to the priesthood as heretics, or his seriously expecting the Catholic Church to welcome all and sundry to receive Holy Communion at its altars.

Yet for anybody meeting him, here is a good man of simple faith; for some reason he seems to have felt it 'necessary to make his faith less simple 4 he has advanced up the hierarchy. The main part of this little booklet is a robust affirmation of the reality of Jesus and the truth of the Resurrection, most explicitly expressed in the evidence of the empty tomb. For this common-sense approach we should all. Catholics not least, be grateful.

He writes movingly about the Eucharist, testifying "For me, this is . the spiritual centre of the life, death and legacy of Jesus Christ. This is what he was about." And he deals deftly with the question of the Eucharistic presence — speaking of the Last Supper: "He took bread, the meal's 'substance', and said 'this is my body'. The substance of the Passover is no longer the lamb which was slaughtered as a sacrifice under the old laws, but Jesus himself." That is surely infmitely more acceptable to Catholics than the talk of "special bread" which so agitates readers of The Catholic Herald.

There are, nevertheless, some strange omissions: there is nothing about the Ascension, or Pentecost, and remarkably, no mention of God the Holy Spirit. More seriously, Dr Carey ignores the question of the virginal conception and birth of our Lord, referring to "his parents — Joseph and Mary," and to St Joseph, without qualification, as "his father"; this he has presumably done in order to avoid "difficulties", for of course I do not doubt Dr Carey's personal fidelity to the gospels in this matter; it is a mistake, because the story of the virgin birth is, what with carol services and other Christmas doings, better known to the man in the street than the Resurrection.

He is, inevitably, weak on the Church. He asks the question: "How can we rely on the Archbishop of Canterbury to be a reliable and objective guide in this search for Jesus of Nazareth?" He does not reply, as he should do from the point of view of the Church of England (though not, obviously, from that of Catholics) "Because I am the lawful successor of St Augustine , who was sent by Pope Gregory, who was the lawful successor of St Peter, who was chosen by Jesus." Instead... well, I'm not sure that he answers the question at all, except by talking about his sincerity and faith.

IT IS ONLY NATURAL that an Archbishop of Canterbury should rely upon his aides to assist in the presentation and revision of such an essay as this. This is only guesswork on my part, but I surmise that honest George Carey's text has been got at by others (or by himself heeding the advice of others).

Somebody has gone through it in the interest of political correctness, introducing horrible neologisms like "humankind". Worse still, it has been subjected to a sort of ecclesiastical spin-doctoring, with the aim of making the message more accessible. The pages are broken up by little mottos in bold type, which I think of, however incorrectly, as "sound-bites"; sometimes they are quotations from the text itself, sometimes questions or objections from imaginary readers, sometimes unattached aphorisms. Here is one of them: "We carry in our baggage the means to complete the destruction not only of our species, but also of the precious planet on which our species depends."

Is that not pure Blairspeak, the language of last month's notorious Bournemouth speech? (I am almost surprised that Dr Carey has not put "New Christianity" on the cover of his booklet.) It is too much like the current English tradition of the Collects etc. from the Roman Missal, replacing clear thoughts with vague generalisations. I venture to turn it into English: "One of our burdens is that mankind now has the opportunity to destroy, not only mankind, but the whole earth on which we live and depend."

Perhaps Dr Carey has been advised that most of his millions of potential readers have become so accustomed to language of this sort that it is the only one they understand. Here is another passage, this time obviously from the Archbishop himself: "Subjectivity is involved in all analysis of movements or ideas. That is a clear and established conclusion in the study of history. Our own subjectivity and experience inevitably colour our interpretation of the facts..." To borrow the punch-line of an old joke "In my parish, your Grace, they talk of nothing else." Really! What kind of language is that? (Again I venture a translation: "Whenever we have to judge movements or ideas, all history teaches us that our judgment is sure to be coloured by our own personal bias.") It is sad that what is in many ways such a good book, written by a good man, should be spoilt by the ghastly language in which it has been cast or re-cast. A king of England was once advised "George, be a King". Dr Carey's guardian angel ought to be saying to him "George, be yourself'.

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