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The testimony of Man’s creative spirit in its surrender to the inescapably divine mystery does of course surround us. Music may be my own most frequented spiritual mistress, and every one of your souls will have its own soaring programme. Pause in wonderment before the sweep of Renaissance art from Giotto to El Greco, before Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal in the Hermitage, Rubens’s Adoration of the Magi (King’s College Chapel, Cambridge), Riemenschneider’s altar carvings, Rublev’s icons. How the religious narrative has captivated the civilising artist!

I, in my free-thinking Protestantism, can worship devoutly in St George’s, Notting Hill Gate, riding with ease the interplay of metaphor, symbolism and historical plausibility (or otherwise) in the Christian narrative and its doctrinal and ritual structures wrought out in the first four centuries after Christ’s presence on earth, when the mindset did not strain over the literal or allegorical and when most potential converts to the faith were illiterate. Charles Saumarez Smith, Secretary of the Royal Academy, noted recently in these pages that the decline in weekly churchgoing in Britain is matched by the rise in attendance in art galleries. “Are the two in some way connected?” he asked.

The answer is a profound but nuanced “Yes”. The water of the creative well, knowingly or unknowingly, serves both, as also does the concert hall and the constant flow of true (that is, inspired and inspiring) musical art on Radio Three. Inspired music pours upon us, whether or not in a secular or religious context. What is a Bach partita if not godly? And meanwhile we can cite a constant year-on-year rise in those visiting our cathedrals: a currently annual 11 million, each person well knowing what cathedrals are for, and the number of those bending the knee therein increasing by 17.6 per cent over the last decade.

Few among those are my 25 descendants, and few cross the threshold of a parish church. I fear for them, for themselves and as exemplars of the civilisation that sustains us: its ideals of governance, its laws and morality, its sense of justice and decency, its response to aggression and threat, its care for the planet and the wellbeing of all men. I fear my progeny will not long manage without recognising and articulating a workable cosmology involving Man in his mortality and Man as spirit in receipt of the mysterious gift of existence from a source beyond time and space. They will have to work with and without analogy and metaphor: work at a coherent religious algebra to wrestle with, hold to: let X be the Son, Y the Holy Spirit, and behold the nothing-all where God is, to be thanked and lost to in silent discipline and emptiness.

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March 21st, 2017
2:03 PM
Very interesting and thoughtful article. thank you. I have forwarded it to my daughter who is an Art Therapist and might have other things to say about the value of art.

philip goodman
February 23rd, 2017
12:02 PM
hello tom long time no see or hear

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