The Church and Humanity: the life and work of George Bell

There is no pleasure quite like receiving a pristine copy of a new book through one’s door; and it is doubled when the book includes some of one’s own work. So I was delighted to find a couple of weeks ago my copy of this new collection, edited by Andrew Chandler, which includes my own article on the making of John Masefield’s play The Coming of Christ, for Canterbury Cathedral in 1928. It is not every day that one’s work appears between the same covers as that of the archbishop of Canterbury; something to tell the grandchildren perhaps.

As it happens, the artistic element of Bell’s work is a relatively minor feature of this volume. There is much here as well for scholars of the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century. Charlotte Methuen writes on Bell’s early ecumenical work to 1929;  Jaakko Rusama on his efforts in promoting Anglican-Lutheran relations; and Gerhard Besier on the friendship with Willem Visser t’Hooft and on the World Council of Churches.

There is also much here for scholars interested in the politics of the period and the Anglican church’s reactions to and interventions in them. Charmian Brinson writes on internment in 1940; Tom Lawson provides a ‘moral history’ of the trial of German war criminals; Dianne Kirby reflects on Bell and the Cold War;  and Andrew Chandler on Bell and the politics of resistance in Nazi Germany. Philip Coupland also provides a chapter on Bell and the cause of European unity.

It is published by Ashgate in a handsome hardback; and is available to order online. My paper, as first published in Humanitas in 2009, is available online.

The visual arts in the Church of England, 1935-56

[UPDATE (2018): the argument of this article is now substantially developed in my book on Walter Hussey. ]

I’m very pleased to be able to say that my article for Studies in Church History 44 (2008) on this topic is now available online in SAS-Space. It tried to catch some of the energy of a small group of critics, artists and clergy who saw a need for renewal in religous art, and thought they knew how to make it happen. Reading it again, five years after first beginning to write it, I’m still quite pleased with it (which one doesn’t always find.) As well as my regular subjects George Bell and Walter Hussey, there are appearances for Henry Moore, John Betjeman and Kenneth Clark, amongst others.


Romantic Moderns

I note several reviews of this recent book by Alexandra Harris: amongst others, Kathryn Hughes in the Guardian, Simon Heffer in the Spectator and Boyd Tonkin in the Independent.

I’ve yet to read the book, but her tracing of another strand to the usual ‘conservative English/modernist continentals’ opposition is of some importance in relation to what some within the churches were attempting at the time. The murals at Berwick,, associated with George Bell, are explicitly mentioned by Daisy Hay.

Harris is on the English staff at the University of Liverpool.

John Masefield’s ‘The Coming of Christ’

[UPDATE: this article has now been published in a slightly revised form in a collection of essays edited by Andrew Chandler.]

I am bound to note the appearance, on the School of Advanced Study’s institutional repository SAS-Space, a post-print text of my article on this play by John Masefield. Commissioned by George Bell for performance in Canterbury Cathedral in 1928 (one of Bell’s last acts as Dean before his appointment as Bishop of Chichester), it is often (incorrectly) described as the first play to be staged in an English cathedral since the Reformation. The article explores what precedents there were for such a performance; examines the controversy provoked by the play, on theological, moral and aesthetic grounds; and locates it in the development of Bell’s own thinking with regard to the relationship between the Church of England and the arts.

The article is to be published in Humanitas. The Journal of the George Bell Institute later this year. I am extremely grateful to the Editor for permission to publish this version at this time. It was originally given at a conference under the auspices of the Institute last year.

The visual arts in the Church of England, 1935-56

I’m bound to draw attention to a new article of mine in the new Studies in Church History (volume 44, 2008). It examines the attempts made by an informal but determined coalition of clergy, artists and critics to revive the connection between church patronage and the contemporary arts. The two most prominent clergy were George Bell (Bishop of Chichester), and Walter Hussey,(St Matthew Northampton and Dean of Chichester.)