Page 6, 26th September 1986

26th September 1986
Page 6
Page 6, 26th September 1986 — Bourgeois Blueprint for a brave new Church

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Locations: London, Rome, Oxford


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Bourgeois Blueprint for a brave new Church

and that damned heat!

IN THE winter of 1941, Guy Tancred is sent by his company, Dunlop Orient, to Colombo to oversee the rubber production there. Afflicted by a certain lack of imagination, and also conceit (the product of his society life in London and Oxford education, and subsequent fairly limited experiences of the Blitz in London), he is unable either to accept or understand a life that he unsuspiciously enters.

In Colombo he is reunited with a brother, Harry, from whom he has been separated for many years and who is remembered as the sender of comics and narrator of highly colourful adventure stories turned Buddhist, celebate and stiflingly condescending. His wife, Jill, remembered as Australian and vulgar, but who establishes herself foremost in Guy's mind for her astuteness and sexuality.

The bourgeois heaviness of the British Colonials who haunt the Club, contrasting sharply with their hysterical suspicions of treason or sabotage by the natives, at the same time as allowing their eminently British minds to stray unerringly towards sexual preoccupations and fantasies.

Seeing this, Guy determines to resist the temptations of falling into such a way of life, but in the end shows the least resilience against the "Power of the East", losing all sense of his British-born morality, falling in love with and seducing his brother's wife, and eventually betraying his country through love of her.

Emotion, history, and an unidentifiable sense of the power of an Eastern culture to warp the sensibilities of westerners are combined in this novel. Christopher Hudson skilfully manages to convey the ideas of human vulnerability and lack of control in a situation alien to his own experience, where there is a greater power than his own imagined one. Against the backdrop of a world war, Hudson presents a set of characters to play their own drama of emotions, allegiances and traditions to the utter exclusion of an enigmatic country whose people maintain a tradition so much older and full of wisdom and truths than their own.

Blinded by their limited vision of life, they are in the end defeated by their own lack of appreciation of the realities which surround them, which manifest themselves in rebellion, lust and war.

But the real power of Colombo Heat lies in the excellence of balance. The reader is made aware of the accelerating danger from the Japanese by the carefully spaced, dry bulletins, which report on the progress of the war as it edges deliberately and surely towards the cocktail world of the British in Colombo — and consequently appreciates with a sickening sense of the inevitable the fate which is to come to the colonials, because of their total and wilful oblivion to politics outside their tight circle.

It is the balance which emphasises the idea of isolation — the "dangerously beautiful" 19 year old Sylvia whose sole concern is marriage to one or other of the young men who have been requisitioned by outside powers to fight by air or sea against the Japanese, and who the reader knows are almost certainly going to their destruction. The balance of Guy Tancred's small minded superiority against the wisdom of Jill, and the philosophy of her husband Harry, Guy's brother. A whole panorama of human ineptitude and lack of control is masterfully presented in this tightly structured and compulsively readable novel, at a time which one is aware of historically but somehow, at the end of Colombo Heal, feels one understands more intimately.

Women-Church by Rosemary Radford Ruether (Harper and Rowe, £16.95).

THE ESTABLISHMENT whether political or religious, social or economic — has little patience with, and even less praise for, harbingers of a new world.

The Catholic Church is no exception, and although at times winds of change blow through its battlements (what greater change than the one ushered in by Vatican 11?) today's catalysts of renewal meet with a sterner reception. From Hans Kung to Fr Charles Curran, Catholics who stray from the beaten path get their knuckles rapped these days.

One theologian who does propose great liturgical changes and who has yet to meet with formal reproof, is the American Rosemary Radford Ruether. Her particular brand of theological dissertation — as manifest in her latest book, WomenChurch — has been branded as feminist by some, as a breath of fresh air by others . . . and as controversial by all.

She, for one, welcomes the controversy as proof of the "dialectic" within the Church: "The history of the Church", Dr Ruether says "is one of tension between community and hierarchy. Our Church has. throughout the centuries attempted to bring everything into a centralised structure which means unified power and strength, but also a vulnerability to changes. When a change does occur, it becomes global in its effect."

A look at. Dr Ruether's book underlines this theologian's concern with Church history: in dialectical terms Dr Ruether places the local initiatives at a parish level against the formal instruction of Rome; the allembracing base community Catholicism of the Third World against the centrifugal and more tradition-bound religious life led by Catholics elsewhere.

"I cannot see the central structure disappearing altogether, but I do see base communities gathering new covenants", says Dr Ruether. "There will be," she predicts, "a seeping back of the flock to the more participatory life within the parish."

Certainly, Dr Ruether will be there, guide book in hand, to welcome those Catholics who feel such communal urges especially women. Her book. in fact, serves as a blueprint for new liturgies, hymns, discussions and betrays a special

Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether speaks to Cristina Odone

concern for women in the Church: from childbirth to menopause, from abortion to divorce, Dr Ruether plans the prayers and the songs that women in these circumstances can turn to.

"We have falling numbers of priests: is that preferable to allowing our women the right to become a priest? A lot of us think not" By 'a lot of us', Dr Ruether explains, she means American Catholic theologians and clergy — "not Catholics in England, nor those in Rome. And I feel sure that under this Pope women's ordination will never come to pass."

A great deal of differences, not all surrounding the issue of women, separate the Catholic community in the US from the one Dr Ruether has found in her visit to England: "Perhaps America's Catholics are more 'revolutionary' because they have no Established Church to contend with, perhaps because the immigrant tradition of forward-looking, freedomloving people has stretched to cover our attitude even in this. But certainly, any Canadian or US Catholic feels the right to change, question and explore traditional Church teaching, far more than his British counterpart.

Despite Dr Ruether's high profile among theological circles both here and across the Atlantic, her unorthodox approach to liturgy and women's role in the Catholic Church has yet to incur papal wrath.

It has, however, won the praise of many Catholics, and, not surprisingly of many women: "Women who are Catholic do feel a sense of estrangement from the Church's hierarchy. There are so many of us who want to be priests, so many of us who feel ill at ease going to a man for confession: what is the Church doing for us?"

The precedent, of course is there: before 1200, as Dr Ruether points out, "you have female independent religious communities springing up in some parts of Christendom.

And the Quakers, for example, had women preachers as far back as the 18th century."

Dissent, Dr Ruether believes, "often brings creativity in its wake". And renewal, and in many instances, fresh hope. She does not, especially, accept any limitations: "I don't believe in examining any issue only from one perspective. The question of women, for instance: can one work exclusively towards consciousness-raising in, exclusively secular terms, thus ignoring women's role within the Church? Can one attempt to breathe fresh life into the Liturgy without taking into account the input of more than half of the congregation?"

Dr Radford Ruether remains optimistic. Tension with a global body like the Catholic Church may exist in many areas and disciplines, but, for this theologian, at least, herein lies the spur to forging a new culture: all-embracing, flexible, and firmly-rooted in the heterogenous traditions that can thrive beneath a unified Church.

"It will be an immense, exciting undertaking" says Dr Radford Ruether of her campaign, "tapping local, parish-level groups, including new liturgy for female rites of passage. I see it as freeing those spaces of religious life that have till now been carefully circumscribed by bishops. It is in these spaces that we Christians can meet and find the common ground for dialogue."

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