Theology of the Icon

The Icon is a major feature in the Orthodox Church. Unlike religious images and statues in Catholicism, however, the Greek Icon has a position in liturgy and doctrine that is cemented by the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787 and which goes beyond the purely decorative and helpful. In this way, however, any Icon, has a position in the liturgy that is paralleled by the Catholic crucifix (with the depiction of the body of Christ) – a Liturgy without Icons is no liturgy just as a Mass  (as stated in the Roman Missal, no 308) celebrated without a Crucifix is regarded as illicit. Of course, both Catholics and Orthodox would wax lyrical about the efficacy of the sacrament with or without the attendant iconography, and both, I hope, would warn against applying the canons too strictly.

The Icon has a bizarre history and seems to defy the ruling in the 10 commandments, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:4-5), but this ruling say the Fathers of the Church is overturned by the fact that The New Testament celebrates God made man and the Invisible Godhead is manifest in the true Icon of his Son, Christ – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.

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The first sunday of Lent in the Orthodox calendar celebrates the Triumph of Orthodoxy. St John Damascene demonstrated that the Icon was the celebration of the Theosis, the divinization of humanity and the Icons in the church act as windows through which the heavenly Church is brought into direct contact with the Church on earth. “The icon” says Archimandrite Zenon, “does not represent anything, it rather reveals something.” St John says the Icon particularly represents what Orthodoxy is about: “If one of the heathens comes to you saying: show me your faith… you will take him to church and put him before all kinds of holy images.” The veneration of Icons is simply a greeting made by the worldly Church with the Church in Heaven and in the words of St Basil the Great, “the honour paid to the image passes on to the prototype”. Outside the Church and the liturgy, the Icon, always an image of great beauty and often valuable in its own right, is in danger of losing its theological meaning and of course it could degenerate, simply, into a form of Ecclesiastical comic strip. (much of what I am writing about the care of religious art could equally apply to the Tibetan Thangka Paintings and frankly could be adapted to the care of the Torah scrolls and the Koran)

baptist icon.jpg

For the Catholic church and many Anglicans, Religious art is a Gospel for the illiterate, as defined by Gregory the Great, “Images are used in churches so that the illiterate could at least look at the walls to read what they are unable to read in books.” and Damascene goes along with this understanding, “The image is a memorial, just what words are to a listening ear. What a book is to the literate, an image is to the illiterate. The image speaks to sight as words to hearing; through the mind we enter into union with it” :he is joined by Theodore the Studite and the canons of the 7th Ecumenical council in identifying the Icon as a form of teaching: “What a word communicates through hearing is what art shows silently through an image”.

St John of Damascus goes a bit further and turns the 2nd commandment round, “It is obvious that at that time [before Christ] you could not make an image of the invisible God, but when you see the Formless One become man for your sake, then you will make images of Him in His human form. When you contemplate God becoming man, then you can depict Him clothed in human form. When the invisible One becomes visible to us, you may then draw His likeness…Paint everything with words and colours both in books and on boards”. In other words, the Icon becomes the way to demonstrate the revelation of the New Testament and the Icon represents a person in a transfigured state.

virgin 2 2003c

There are many conventions- only those not venerated, for instance are depicted in profile, the idea of inverted perspective and the light of Mount Tabor, the fact that the Virgin is always pointing to her son, and so on. I have a bit of an issue with one aspect of icongraphy that seems to be gaining ground- there is a tendency to talk about “writing” rather than “painting” an Icon. I think this is a bit precious and as far as I can see, the two words in Greek and Russian, γράφειν and писать, are both ambiguous and can mean both “write” and “paint”, (the russian word is more likely to mean “paint” as a technical term and tends only to be used in the sense of “write” in modern Russian but, if the stress is misplaced, it can also have a slightly more vulgar meaning  redolent of the astonishingly crass Councillor- now thankfully suspended, Dominic Peacock)

dominic Peacock

We should use English in a more direct way. But in a noisy world, the Icon remains a silent testament to a different kind of life. That must be valuable whether we have a belief or not. A celebration of the beautiful.

 

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Swedish gripe

 

The Swedish group Abba have just performed again for the first time in 30 years, and today the Swedish Foreign Minister, wearing glasses no doubt to give an air of authority to her statement, added her own voice to the Referendum debate. Maybe she is the first of many such interventions. But it is all a bit late. The time to have pleaded about the “domino effect” was when David Cameron was jetting around the capitals of Europe trying to secure a better deal. But the effective dictatorship of Merkel held the day and we entered the Referendum at a disadvantage.

margot

Now, Ms Wallstrom whines, “everyone might want one”. Absolutely. And what is wrong with that? A series of referenda to determine the future of the Continent- democracy in action might actually re-invigotate this EU project. Because Europe is failing because it has been hijacked by largely unaccountable political ideologists who forget that the two primary functions of the EU are to bolster trade and preserve unity. Instead, a number of political obsessions have been allowed to take over- it was politics, in other words, not economics that dictated the spread of the EURO and, similarly, the punishment of Greece. But it is the creed of ever closer union that has most seriously damaged the overall project.

While I think her intervention is late and slightly patronising, I am afraid she is right (for once- because she was wrong about the arms deal with Saudi Arabia and that one blew up rather spectacularly in her face), but what she says in itself is not a good enough reason for us to vote to remain in the EU. The only reason to vote against BREXIT is to sort out the mess Europe has got into (and it is people like Wallstrom whose background in the EU Commission was put to the test and found wanting in her spat with Riyadh). We cannot afford to have this EU monster of such mindlessness and arrogance growing on our doorstep.

If we left Europe and it collapsed in our wake, the pressing political need to set up a new “EU” would be paramount for the very reasons the EU was established in the first place to provide trade, unity and security. Better, then, to repair the old one, waste less time and money and cement our common alliances. The measure of our success will be not only the prosperity of Greece but also our own security.

Ubiquitous Mann

A few weeks’ ago, I wrote about the appalling Ken Livingstone’s rewrite of history and the failure of the BBC to correct the faulty facts. The BBC is unrepentant but Livingstone looks set to explore the wilderness at last. The man behind the exposure was John Mann, who called Livingstone a “nazi apologist”, and who had also attacked Livingstone earlier as a “bigot” when the ex-Mayor had pointed out that he thought the shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones might “need psychiatric help”. This is what Livingstone said, “I think he might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed … He should pop off and see his GP before he makes these offensive comments.” It is very much a Livingstone put-down. Livingstone suggested that his spat with Mann, however, went back to his failure to campaign for Mann in Oldham during the general election. Another typical swipe. But well done, Mann!

It all seems a bit personal, of course. When the two of them were on the radio, Livingstone said, “You’re on the radio and TV all the time, criticising what this party leadership is doing. All the time.” mm. It is an Edward Lear instance of the pot bashing the kettle.

And in response, Mann said this,

“You are a bully attacking Kevan Jones. Your language is appalling. You’re a bigot. You’ve failed to apologise … Even today, you’re failing to do so.” whereupon David Mellor butted in and added, “Can listeners kindly be reminded that these are two members of the Labour party who’ve been discussing their love for one another.”

However, Livingstone has a point. Whenever he knocks him down, Mr Mann keeps popping up like some sort of puppet- but the issues are so much bigger than a punch and judy booth.

john Mann

I think Mann looks alot like Neil Morrissey of “Men Behaving Badly” fame.

Mr Mann is also the MP who blew the whistle on abuse in Westminster, amid lurid tales of child strangulation in the 1980s. This, in turn, led to the hounding of Leon Brittan and Edward Heath. Unfortunate: stories have been leaking for years about the former PM but I think the idea that such an introverted man was involved in any groups is absurd, lurid and foundless. De Mortuis nil nisi bonum. Today, Mr Mann has announced that he is voting against his party for Brexit. I suppose that says rather more about Mr Corbyn’s lacklustre leadership than it says about Mr Mann’s ability to grab headlines.

It pains me to say

Much of what Farage says here is right, particularly about his reservations and warnings about the Euro- “through massive ambition and hubris, you ploughed on.”

I was in Greece in the run-up to the Millenium and the Euro project there was clearly a disaster hidden beneath a carpet of half-truths. But while Farage thinks we should walk away now the damage has been done, I think we should hang around and clear up the mess.

So much of what Farage says is reasonable, and of course brilliantly done- from a rhetorical point of view, he is a master of the verbal put-down and the jocular aside. But then he does a typically Farage thing and says he is walking out, never to return. But we know Farage from last year, when his resignation then turned out to be just a two week holiday following his unplanned defeat in the elections. Time to lick his wounds perhaps but not time enough to reflect on what the electorate had told him.

While I accept his comments about the hubris of those who drove the Euro, and while I share his concerns about the EU and its future, I hasten to add I have drawn different conclusions, partly because of his failure to eradicate racism in his own party, his endorsement of views that might well be taken to be racist, and his inability to control the thugs in his own backyard.

UKIP is the only party in the UK to embrace a libertarian view, and that is attractive, – more than that, there are excellent people in the party (not least Douglas Carswell, but I hope the option remains for him to return to the fold) – but it is too wide a church and the BPMers who infiltrated its ranks have been both tolerated and advanced to the detriment of others. (What was Sajjid Karim thinking of when he talked about “dealing” with Farage- I hope he was not suggesting violence and I am sure he was not- but no doubt that’s the way Farage would interpret it! We do not want to encourage the thuggery surely!)  If Farage is walking out of the EU, then, thank God, but recent history suggests he is not to be trusted to follow-through with this!

farage

 

Dr Sarah

sarah wollaston

 

Yesterday, Dr Wollaston changed sides. I quite admire people who change their opinions especially in the middle of a race. It is rather noble, I think, to defy the school 400m, turn tail and run backwards to the starting point. It requires guts and self-judgement as well as a fair degree of élan to pull off this sort of manoeuvre successfully.

It is also something that, quite frankly, you can only do once. (I did it so that is the end of that)

In this case, I think Dr Wollaston has actually drawn attention to a disturbing trend in the Referendum campaign. She said that she was not comfortable with the claims being made about the potential money, potentially £350 million a week, available to spend on the NHS (and the simple fact is that she is right). This is what she has said,

“For someone like me who has long campaigned for open and honest data in public life I could not have set foot on a battle bus that has at the heart of its campaign a figure that I know to be untrue.

“If you’re in a position where you can’t hand out a Vote Leave leaflet, you can’t be campaigning for that organisation.”

This is all well and true, however, and I have been saying this for a while, but the problem here is that the claims made about the £350 million were being made quite a few weeks’ ago, so her sudden defection seems a bit tardy. Was it that she did not think the claim mattered as long as it was not plastered over her own bus? The timing of her move is just not quite right.

Dr Wollaston is quite good with warnings – she warned us before the General election about the need for a £15 billion spend on the NHS to avoid the whole system imploding during the present parliament. So prophetic and right again, but late, and she is doing the same here.

We also heard about fraud (£670 million lost last year with 9000,000 Euros lost to dishonest EU staff!) but the figures were drawn from Olaf, the EU fraud office, which presumably is in the process of catching the fraudsters and putting the money back where it belongs.

boris

Boris has made the £350 million claim fairly often-“We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund our NHS instead.” -that is 350 million a week going to Brussels (17.8 billion a year), but with the rebate (1984) the actual figure is closer to £240 million and the rebate takes place before any money is sent to the EU so the claims made about Britain sending £350 million a week to Europe are blatantly false.

More than that, the £240 million odd that is sent to Brussels does not include the money spent by the EU on UK projects. Scientific research (in 2013 was £1,4 billion a year), education and the arts all benefit from EU investment and bring the overall net fee to around £130 million a week- still arguably alot of money, but significantly less than the claims made by Boris.

The letter

The UK Statistics Authority wrote rather apologetically to explain to the leave campaign that their figure was wrong, but still the sum is peddled out…

But there are other more serious errors. The first is the simple fact that even if we save £350 million every week, there is no guarantee it will be used in the NHS or can be ring-fenced at all. If a “Leave” result causes the economy to tumble as some predict it will, then much of that savings will be lost anyway and the reality of the post-Brexit negotiations certainly does not guarantee any substantial savings if we follow Norway . So the simple fact remains- if I do not spend money as it is currently spent, that does not automatically mean I have saved it- It may mean I no longer have the money to spend at all.

The Philosophical problem

There are good reasons for voting “Leave”- supporting our declining fishing industry is one of them, and I contributed advertising to that end.

I still think this is an important cause, but on reflection, I am not sure it is enough to see us quit the EU. That alone is not enough- a big negative gesture will not bring about anything positive. Again, back to the Wollaston issue- saving £350 million does not mean we can or would automatically use that money on the NHS.

Here is the mistake of the BREXIT campaign in this instance and it is a serious one: not doing something bad does not mean we are automatically committed to doing something good.

And back to Statistics

But the Remain side has been equally plagued by dodgy statistics, so once again Dr Wollaston’s desire for honesty is compromised. The Osborne claim that families would be £4300 worse off after Leave is again fairly spurious and based on a misreading of Treasury data. Jacob Rees Mogg is someone I respect a great deal and this is his conclusion-

“I care nothing about the bus. I am not concerned about charabancs. That is not at the heart of the debate.

“I have always used the net figure. What is far more shocking is that the Chancellor has been using a figure he knew would be misleading.” Mr Rees-Mogg is in the Brexit camp.

Farage the right hand man

It is certainly not the first time that Nigel Farage has over-egged his omelette, and certainly not the first time he has courted controversy with ill-judged mis-information. Indeed, had he been in a kitchen, he would have long-since eclipsed Gordon Ramsey who as far as I know was only foul-mouthed, never deceitful. As Mr Kipling might have said of the UKIP man, “he bakes exceedingly good cakes,” and what almighty whoppers they are.

Last year, Farage claimed that the NHS was overrun with migrant patients claiming treatment for HIV at a cost of £25,000 each. (he said that 60% of the 7000 HIV sufferers in the UK were not British:

You can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the [anti-]retroviral drugs, that cost up to £25,000 a year per patient.

I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to do is put the National Health Service there for British people and families who in many cases have paid into this system for decades.

Utter tosh of course- he was immediately branded “ill-informed and discriminatory” and migrant doctors and nurses do a great deal to help the NHS. More than that, at least 6o% of people newly-infected with HIV were born in the UK. It is incidentally, quite true that we had once held a payment scheme for non EU HIV patients but since 2012, Norman Fowler has ensured that HIV infection has been classed like any other infectious disease (meningitis, tuberculosis, cholera, food poisoning, and malaria). When the legislation was introduced to bring treatment in line with the treatment of other infectious diseases, this is what was said,

“This measure will protect the public and brings HIV treatment in to line with all other infectious diseases. Treating people with HIV means they are very unlikely to pass the infection on to others.” Treatment and early diagnosis helps us all:

“Effective treatment of HIV reduces its spread by up to 96 per cent. This change is in line with the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Expert Advisory Group’s advice, and offering NHS treatment will encourage testing, resulting in fewer undiagnosed HIV infections and therefore ensuring that there is less chance of passing on infection to the wider population.”

Farage was sent a letter by ACT UP, Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Natilie Bennett, asking him to “to apologise for his factually inaccurate, and stigmatising, comments”. Farage tends not to answer such letters.

Farage tends to dismiss criticism as exaggeration or nonsense so he is not likely to be bothered now that fellow Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom  questioned his claims- “obviously it is an outrageous thing to say”, she said.

What Farage threatens this time is further attacks in Britain like that of Cologne at New Year if we remain in the UK. Women will no longer be safe because British and migrants have “very big cultural” differences. That may be partially true but it is certainly not true that all migrants are abusers and potential rapists. That is absurd and racist.

The two claims, about HIV and the potential danger to women posed by migrants, however tell us something more about Farage the man. Not only is he prepared to peddle fear in horror-film format, but he is also clearly obsessed with sex. This, from someone who hopes to be Boris Johnson’s right hand man come a successful result at the referendum. This is what Farage said of Boris and how he envisaged his role as right hand man, on May 14th:

“I love Boris, respect him, admire him; I’m a Boris fan. Could I work for him? Yes. Could I see a scenario if he was PM and he asked me to do something? I wouldn’t rule it out.

Poor Boris! I shudder to think what weird favours Farage intends to provide, but as he says, “I wouldn’t rule it out”

Thank God for Chris Heaton Harris who leads the Leave campaign with the qualification that he will not discuss the immigration stuff nor score points off immigration. I wish others would wake up to the reality that immigration is a quite different question to whether we remain in or out of Europe, and the Turkey-basting is simply embarrassing.

However this story moves forward, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Heaton Harris, our two local MPs come out of it very well. There are some prices we cannot pay, and we can never condone the sort of racist demagogy championed by Farage. Surely after this election, he will retire for more than a few weeks… we live in hope.

Here are a few pictures to put all this into context.

Trump needs a trim

We live in a world dominated by peculiarly dull politicians, so it ought to make sense that those with a little eccentricity get support. Trump, sadly goes too far. He is an engaging speaker but he is not a politician: he is more of a fairground bouncer, a barnum and bailey carousel barker, but the joke has worn thin as I suggest has his hair, and it is time to call time on this playground parody. He needs a trim.

I have issues with The new Mayor, Khan, but I like the way he has responded to Trump’s offer that Khan might be the new Jesse Owens, the single blessed exception to his pernicious anti-Muslim rule. Khan knows the concession validates the underlying rule -and we can never dignify the ravings of a man hiding beneath a bird’s nest. Heaven forbid that he might win- that would be one weird cuckoo taking over the Whitehouse!

trumping

Hair and history

History has often savaged political leaders blessed with a luxuriant mane. Heseltine, Foot and Alexander the Great all tripped up and lost the game when they seemed to be winning, and Boris’s mop may well prove to be his downfall too. The spectre of Samson looms large but we cannot go too far with this imagery because it was undue criticism of Trudeau’s hair that gave him some sort of advantage and La Clinton’s hair barely merits a mention these days which may well usher her back into the Whitehouse.

At the beginning of the current US campaign, the Obama team tried to rubbish Trump’s hair with claims that it was all fake. There has been talk about Trump’s use of an ointment called Rogaine (he handed it out to one of his employees apparently who was suffering hair loss), of his having had a surgical flap (a form of hair transplant) and grafts like some sort of cranial rose. But surely we are beyond that now- can floppy hair ever explain his rudeness, racism and bigotry? can so many wives and girlfriends be combed away so easily? I am with Cameron and Khan in sniffing at his bonce. Can these teflon locks really explain why Trump gets away with the worst excesses of follicular audacity? Is it hair, or does Trump conceal some sort of blond rodent presumably whispering inanities into his hidden ear – a bit like the rat in “Ratatoille” – is he in short, the Davy crocket of the 21st century-  It may not be a hairpiece- it may be an earpiece, or maybe Trump believes it is the word of God. Moses had long hair too, remember?

And is that Trumping racoon dangerous?

The answer regrettably is yes, and if Trump says we need to get out of Europe, there can be only one sane response. We need to stay, but we need to make sure we’ve got a sturdy pair of scissors to hand for all the trimming we will need to do. We have to remember the History of Europe- but we have to be mindful of recent scissoring too. Can we ever forget the haircuts given to Greece? Unless Mrs Merkel wants to present herself as a modern-day Dalilah, a trip to the barber should be a joy, not a punishment.

louis XVI

Roman soldiers had short hair- probably a reason why St Paul promoted haircuts in the New Testament, though, of course, the rabbis might tell a different story- and certainly in Hassidic Judaism, it would be the women (the wig wearers) who shave their hair while the men still grow it in elegant tassles, as indeed do Orthodox monks (the man bun is not just for John Snow). British history, meanwhile, pitches the long-haired Royalists against the sturdy Roundheads, suggesting that short hair means business (Nicola Sturgeon?). But short hair historically has also been associated with slavery and long hair has been tied up with liberation and the urge to rebel (remember the musical “Hair”?).

Moving from politics, there have been some notable long haired men, often scientists- Robert Boyle (as in Boyle’s law), Dmitri Mendeleev, the periodic table man, Carl Linnaeus (the “Gorilla Gorilla” man from Biology), Da Vinci, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein of course and Isaac Newton, but also artists like Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Oscar Wilde, Franz Liszt, Leif Segerstam (who puts me to shame) Stokowski, Jesus, Brian May and so on. But then there is Richard Branson, and immediately we start to think again of Mr Trump and of the desperate need for both a decisive tonsure and a monastic vow of silence.

Whatever nonsense might be in his head, whatever words he utters, the curse of Trump’s excessive hair never really goes away. It has becoming an icon of insanity, whether ours or his I suppose will be decided at the Presidential election.

branson.