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This item is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

WHEN Michael Schmidt revealed, to nobody's consternation, that the three editors of this journal do not see eye to eye on everything that is submitted to us, nor on everything that we print, he pointed to PNR 13, our Crisis for Cranmer and King James, as one 'point of complete consensus'. He was right; and it is the more important to get it quite clear what it was that we, and the contributors assembled by David Martin, agreed to or agreed upon. We did not for instance agree to this:

Certainly the language of a liturgy should be intelligible in so far as the matters alluded to are intelligible, but more is required of the language than that. It should be dignified, solemn, resonant, universal, hieratic and unfashionable. These are requirements, not optional extras.

This is the form that the defence of Cranmer took, when The Times weighed in with a Third Leader on Thursday 12 June; and our readers should make no mistake-these are not at all the grounds on which David Martin and the rest of us mounted our defence of the Book of Common Prayer, last November. We are after all initially and principally a magazine of poetry; and every reader of modern poetry will come up with the classic text that conclusively explodes The Times's liking for the 'dignified, solemn, resonant':

For the nobleness of the populace brooks nothing below its own altitude.
One must have resonance, resonance and sonority . . . like a goose.
(Homage to Sextus Propertius)

For us therefore dignity, solemnity and resonance are distinctly 'optional extras', by no means 'requirements'. And so, when The Times leader predictably provoked a storm of mostly clerical remonstrance and indignation (14 June), many of us found ourselves, not for the first time, murmuring 'A plague o' both your houses'. On the one hand we found further evidence of what has surely been the most disquieting revelation of the whole controversy-that is to say, fierce and principled philistinism among the clergy, as when Canon D. H. Bishop of Norwich sneered at 'those whose primary interest is the preservation of a questionable aesthetic rather than with the continuance of a living Christian faith.' And yet on the other hand that same Canon Bishop was surely right when he refused the rigmarole about solemnity and resonance: 'I see little historical precedent for that claim . . .' And I think he was still right when he asserted to the contrary: 'At its best liturgy has been understandable, celebratory and contemporary.' Our contention has been, and is, that Cranmer's liturgy is all of these things; and that if any communicant does not find it understandable and celebratory, it is the incumbent's duty to instruct him so that he shall-with the all-important rider that if the incumbent chooses instead to teach him another form of words, he is necessarily inculcating another set of beliefs.

The best of the clerical remonstrances came three days later (17 June) from Richard Law, Chaplain of Framlingham College. The whole of this letter is valuable, and not just because the writer is a schoolmaster as well as a priest. Nothing in it was more crucial than this:

The Church will depend upon her attachment to the promised presence of her founder, not to any particular form of words. Once more we are in danger of confusing the Word with the words. Perception of the reality of Christ in our midst, I submit, is governed by issues of far greater weight than the language used.

No one can answer for David Martin, nor for any one else; yet surely no Christian can here find anything to disagree with. We must all agree that 'the Word' matters more than 'the words'; though it does not follow that all concern with the words, or with any particular form of them, is frivolous and misconceived. And so it may be worthwhile for me to put on record what ought to be obvious, but probably isn't: that when I take communion according to Rite Three, the most threadbare and commonplace of all the alternatives on offer, I certainly experience two or three moments of anguished discomfort, but of course these do not destroy the efficacy of the sacrament, nor are they enough to remove all conviction of communion with my fellow-worshippers. This is only to say that taking communion by Rite Three is obviously better than not taking it at all. And it seems to follow that if Rite Three is necessary for my fellows to be in communion with me, then with whatever disquiets I must settle for that. This of course is precisely what some of our clerical opponents declare to be the case. But so long as this is mere assertion on their part, I am at liberty to disbelieve them. And on such a matter surely Gallup polls are as inappropriate and unpersuasive on our side of the argument as on theirs. Little as they seem to recognize it, we are asking them to instruct us, not to please us. They cannot please us all, and they shouldn't try; but they can and must instruct us all, by expounding and explaining on the one hand Scripture and on the other hand those time-honoured formulations by which the doctrines of the Church have been defined. So far from being contumacious, we are asking our ghostly fathers to assert their authority-the authority vested in them at ordination, not conferred by majority vote of any committee, nor by any findings of consumerresearch such as the counting of communicant heads Sunday by Sunday.

The case of The Times leader and Ezra Pound's resonant goose is, or it ought to be, representative. PNR is a poetry magazine first, last, and always. It is not a magazine interested in poetry and also in liturgical reform. It is interested in poetry and therefore in liturgical reform, as also in art-criticism and the conduct of government and a dozen other things. We concern ourselves with these matters because there is no way not to be concerned with them if one is seriously concerned with poetry. The good poets-in this case, Pound and Propertius -have things to say on these matters which The Times may ignore, but we shall not. Poetry is not a specialized interest; that it should be thought to be so, by editors of The Times and many thousands of others, is part of what is wrong with us.

This item is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

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