Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Aidan Hart - Iconographer and Sacred Artist

Christ the All Merciful


Jesus said, 'This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain - first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.'

Mark 4: 26-29


It is easy to feel down-heartened about the state of Christianity in Britain today. Church attendance, we are continually told, is in free-fall, while practicing Christians are bundled out of the public square with almost celebratory haste. Yet the parable of the growing seed encourages us to look at the situation differently. The Kingdom of God is mysterious and unquantifiable. It cannot be measured, weighed or counted. It grows in secret ways and places that are foreign to the linear, rationalistic mind. Night and day it grows, whether we sleep or get up. We need eyes to see it though, and ears to hear, neither of which are easy to obtain in this spiritually obtuse age. The good news, however, is that signs of renewal can in fact be found all around us, often in independent, non-official, non-obvious places. The sacred art of Aidan Hart is one of these places.

Hart was born in England in 1957, though he spent most of his early life in New Zealand, where he trained as a secondary school teacher and began practicing as a sculptor. He became a member of the Greek Orthodox Church in 1983, returned to live in England and started his career as a professional iconographer. He lived for two years as a monk on Mount Athos, then spent six years as a hermit in Shropshire. He is now married with two children.

Hart's website - - illustrates the quality and quantity of his work as well as the sheer variety of his oeuvre: panel paintings, frescoes, carvings, illuminated manuscripts, mosaics, and more. He is also in demand as a teacher, speaker and writer, and his website gives numerous examples of his written and spoken work. He has written two books, Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting (2011) and Beauty Spirit Matter: Icons in the Modern World (2014), and was elected a fellow of the Temenos Academy in 2015. He now has over 900 commissioned works in private and church collections in over 25 countries.

What I find especially cheering is that this great wellspring of spiritual and artistic energy should be bubbling up from the heart of our country. Aidan Hart lives and works in Shropshire, one of the quietest and most sparsely populated counties in England. Maybe some of that calm and stillness carries over into his art and strikes a chord with a public desperately in need of the peace and centredness that only contact with the Divine can bring. Modern men and women, as T.S. Eliot observed in Four Quartets, are 'distracted from distraction by distraction', but these distractions can only numb the ache of a life lived without ultimate point or purpose. They cannot save or heal. Aidan Hart's icons, on the other hand, can help do exactly that, imbued as they are with the salvific, restorative peace that Eliot in the same poem calls, 'the still point of the turning world.'

Hart's icons have a particular resonance, I feel, for those of us with a connection to the British Isles, simply because his work features so many British and Irish saints. This icon of the sixth-century saint, Kentigern of Strathclyde (also known as Mungo), for instance, is a fine example:

Hart's abundant body of work, emanating from the quietness of Shropshire and informed by his monastic experience, plays an analogous role, I feel, to the lives and work of St. Kentigern and the other British and Irish saints of the late Roman and early Anglo Saxon periods. This was a time not unlike our own in many ways, an age of uncertainty and incipient chaos, where the moral and social values that underpinned the Pax Romana for centuries were falling apart, undermined from within and without. St. Kentigern, as a young man, wanted to take a step back from the Empire's collapse, living a life of prayer, simplicity and solitude in a small cell near an extinct volcano. But as with the Desert Fathers and Mothers in Egypt a century previously, he discovered that others came seeking him, recognising in the life he was living something of the meaning, authenticity and integrity that the Western Roman world had to all intents and purposes already lost.

Aidan Hart's work punches precisely at this level. People encounter it once, then come back for more, just as the men and women of the fifth century came to St. Kentigern. There is a depth and a seriousness to it, together with a joy and a radiance, that cuts right through the tightening mesh of contemporary life - the soulless bureaucracy of the state, the spirit-sapping squeeze of market forces and the adversarial, increasingly polarised nature of political debate. His icons speak the language of Truth, and people respond to that. When you look at his art, you feel at home. The human heart was made for God, irrespective of all the decline we see around us. It will always resonate - no matter how unconsciously or inarticulately - to an icon, a piece of music or a poem (Four Quartets again, for example) which speaks at that level.

It is also important to challenge contemporary misconceptions as to what religious faith entails. Aidan Hart does this very well in his talks and essays. All too often, we suppress the stirrings of our hearts and turn away from a relationship with God because we feel it will somehow cancel out our personality or consist of nothing more than adherence to a strict set of rules. In his talk, The Icon Tradition From Within, Hart shows us that the opposite is true. A life lived in faith is a liberation, not a prison sentence. There is nothing legalistic or self-annihilating about it. On the contrary, it rescues us from the dead ends of individualism and sets us on the path to community and love, a fertile place of life and growth where our true calling and identity can shine forth:

'Although our walk with God is according to the commands given to all, the details of this walk are unique because each one of us is unique ... And one's true, God-illuminated self is the greatest gift we can give to others. White light is made of many colours, and our task is to be one of these colours.'

Our ultimate destiny is not a fixed and final state of 'eternal bliss', but rather a dynamic, two-way relationship with Christ, leading us 'further up and further in' - as C.S Lewis put it in The Last Battle - to the beating heart of the Holy Trinity. As Hart told his listeners in a talk at All Saints Anglican Church, Baschurch, Shropshire:

'We are all called to be transfigured. We are called not merely to follow Christ at a distance, but to be Christ-bearers, to shine with the same glory, the same light of divinity with which he shines.'

To contemplate the work of Aidan Hart is to take a first step on that journey. His sacred art frees us from the prisons of our egos and helps us frame our joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, triumphs and frustrations in a wider, more spacious context, packed full of meaning and love and brimming over with 'that peace which passeth all understanding.' As such, his iconography stands as an outstanding counterpart to the diminished spiritual horizons of our age, 'shining with the same glory, the same light of divinity with which he shines.'

The Mandillion

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

What prevented Romanticism from attaining maturity? What made it become puerile?

 Owen Barfield in his seventies

Writing in a Festschrift to Owen Barfield (Evolution of Consciousness: studies in polarity, 1972 - edited by Shirley Sugarman); RJ Reilly wrote a superb chapter modestly entitled A Note on Barfield, Romanticism and Time.

What Reilly said has direct relevance to the 'project' of this blog.

He links to a comment by Barfield from Saving the Appearances to the effect that the romantic impulse never attained to maturity during the nineteenth century; and the only alternative to maturity is puerility (i.e. immaturity, childishness, foolishness).

What was missing from mainstream Romanticism was Christianity and Time.

Christianity, because rejection of the limitations of the churches went over into anti-Christianity (or 'anything-but Christianity', in the case of the 'spiritual but not religious' perennialist philosophers and seekers).

And Time was rejected because of the tendency of the tendency of Romanticism to regard enlightenment as all times in the 'ephiphanic' moment, that enlightened moment as out-of-Time and as all-Times - an indifference to chronology, or sequence - the denial of any destiny to history.

It was an achievement of Barfield to pick up the thread of Romanticism and point ahead to its maturity - including the inclusion of both Christianity and Time; and this highlighted those thinkers whose Romanticism did indeed include C&T - the likes of William Blake, ST Coleridge and Barfield's Master Rudolf Steiner.*

This forms a neat summary of the Romanticism, and indeed the strategy, I would endorse - a Romanticism in a Christian framework, and (also consistent with Christianity) one which understands human life and culture in terms of a destiny (an intended plan or sequence) unfolding through Time.

*To which I would add William Arkle.

Monday, 19 March 2018

How can the people of Albion be supine in the face of the Telford (etc) mass, organised, long-term, officially-known-but-allowed; rape and violent abuse of uncounted thousands of children and the vulnerable?

The short answer is that if the people of Albion were not already and en masse supine, demoralised, hedonistic, nihilistic, cowardly and profoundly demotivated - then Telford etc. would never have happened in the first place.

That is the top and bottom of the affair.

And we know exactly why the people of Albion are such a morally-despicable disgrace.

It is perfectly simple.

As Solzhenitsyn stated: We have forgotten God.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Nothing-butness - From science to bureaucracy

More and more of our patients complain of a sense of meaninglessness in life. More and more often, the reason is the outlook of science. Or what has come through to them as the outlook of science. 

Sometimes it is called reductionism. I'd prefer to apply a phrase of Jung's and say nothing-butness

Thinking people tend to feel that science has cut Man down. It's explained away everything that matters in terms of smaller, meaner things that don't matter. 

Religion is nothing but wish-fulfilling fairy-tales. Love is nothing but body chemistry. Art is nothing but a surge of conditioned reflexes. The highest flights of the poet of philosopher are traced back to childhood trivia and rationalised compensations.

Science leaves man shut-in, futile, doomed. In Desmond Morris's words, a naked ape... 

From The Finger and the Moon by Geoffrey Ashe - a novel published in 1973.

The above passage confirms what those who lived through it remember - that the diagnosis of the modern condition of nihilism was well understood 45 years ago - but its cause was wrongly attributed; and, of course, the main and culturally-dominant ideas for how to solve the problems (free-love, rock music, supposedly-egalitarian communes, psychedelic drugs, eclectic Easter-type religiosity...) were almost-completely ineffective, or counter-productive.

Hardly anybody nowadays feels the above sense of oppression by 'science' - science has waned in the public consciousness, even as the number of people employed as 'scientists' has increased more than tenfold... partly because the number of people employed as 'scientists' has increased more than tenfold.

With the death of Stephen Hawking, famous more for being crippled and anti-religion than for the scope of his scientific achievements, and the non-personing of Jim Watson in 2007; most people could not name a single living scientist - nor could a single living scientist's name be recognised by most people.

The reason is obvious enough - real science has disappeared from the official and professional institutions and been replaced by, absorbed by, The Bureaucracy. The biggest and most heavily-funded 'scientific' projects are actually engineering (the human genome project, hadron collider, renewed interest in space travel...) and/ or a pack of lies propagated for political reasons (anthropogenic global warming, the best-selling 'new' medical drugs...).

The 'scientists' are just careerist bureaucrats, doing what they are told by their 'line managers', who are themselves keyed-into the rest of The Bureaucracy - just like everyone else.

The sixties counter-culture has been completely absorbed by the mass media amplified by personal computers and ubiquitous 'smart'-phones - and political 'dissent' and 'radicalism' is mainstream, taught in schools and by state propaganda; subsidised and promoted by The Bureaucracy.

Now science is bureaucracy; consequently The Bureaucracy is science. We believe and obey because Truth is now consensus, and consensus is manufactured by managed-committees, by procedures and by votes - and the bureaucratic consensus is validated by internal bureaucratic mechanisms that allocate funding, publication, promotions, publicity, awards and prizes.     

Meanwhile, people have gone beyond 'complaining' about a sense of meaninglessness in life - why complain about something immovable and unavoidable and all-pervading? They just live-it; and distract themselves from awareness of it (which has never been easier). Science, for all its nothing-butness, was also exciting and hopeful.

Now excitement and hope is restricted to the manipulative totalitarianism of the mass media; and the ever-expanding bureaucracy closes-off all genuine autonomy in a ever-smaller-meshed network of total surveillance and micro-control.

Sixties-seventies radicalism was always mostly a set-up and a dead-end; and things have moved-on. We can seem much more clearly now, than they did then - so clearly that we don't need to be told. Everyman can see for himself - if he wants-to. Everyman can know what needs to be done - if he wants to...

It is the wanting that is lacking - and also the courage to want.

The Mark of the Horse Lord

Since I first read William Golding's Free Fall (1959) 32 years ago, I have been convinced that it has the finest opening paragraph in English literature:

I have walked by stalls in the market-place where books, dog-eared and faded from their purple have burst with a white hosanna. I have seen people crowned with with a double crown, holding in either hand the crook and flail, the power and the glory. I have understood how the scar becomes a star. I have felt the flake of fire fall, miraculous and pentecostal. My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are grey faces that peer over my shoulder. I live on Paradise Hill, ten minutes from the station, thirty seconds from the shops and the local. Yet I am a burning amateur, torn by the irrational and incoherent, violently searching and self-condemned.

This passage, and many more in Golding's oeuvre, carry linguistic and poetic echoes of Thomas Thraherne's Centuries of Meditation. In both cases the English language flows like molten lava. Free Fall is as good as it gets for me. But the second best opening paragraph, in my view, comes from a children's novel published in 1965, The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992):

In the long cavern of the changing-room, the light of the fat-oil lamps cast jumping shadows on the walls; skeleton shadows of the spear-stacked arms-racks, giant shadows of the men who crowded the benches or moved about still busy with their weapons and gear; here and there the stallion shadow of a plume-crested helmet. The stink of the wild beasts' dens close by seeped in to mingle with the sharper smell of men waiting for the trumpets and sweating a little as they waited. Hard to believe that overhead where the crowds had been gathering since cock-crow, the June sun was shining and a fresh wind blowing in from the moors to set the brightly-coloured pennants flying.

The English language simply isn't deployed like this in fiction any more. The obsession with toning down 'purple prose' and filtering out unnecessary words has led to a flattening and hollowing out, which renders unfashionable much of the colour and vitality Sutcliff displays here. It is difficult to imagine a contemporary adult novel, let alone a children's book, beginning with such a burst of rich, imaginatively-charged prose. 

The quality of writing stays at this level throughout the book's 21 chapters. Phaedrus, a young gladiator in second-century Roman Britain, is awarded his freedom but, as in Colin Wilson's diagnosis of modern man, doesn't know what to do with it. Thrown into prison after a drunken night's revelry, he is sprung from jail by representatives of a Gaelic tribe from the western isles of what is now Scotland. He is asked to impersonate their former king, who was disposed of by the queen of a neighbouring tribe, and become the figurehead the Gaelic leaders need if they are to regain their kingdom. Phaedrus accepts, and the story flows organically and fluently from there.

Sutcliff's descriptions of people, places, and the natural world are atmospheric and richly-textured. Her characters are rounded and believable. The story seems to spring from them fully formed - like Athene from the head of Zeus - as if the tale already exists in some archetypal world of Platonic Forms and Sutcliff has merely picked up its wavelength and written it down in one sitting. Any author who creates this impression in the reader's mind is clearly, in my view, a great artist. The reality of even gaining access to that primordial realm, then crafting and shaping a story out of what one encounters there, is always (in my experience anyway) a colossally tough affair.

From about Chapter 13 onwards, the storytelling goes up a level again, as if the authorial presence has vanished and the story has taken on a life of its own and is telling itself. It's an extraordinary achievement, and one of those books that when I finished it I struggled to get my bearings for a few days as I had become so immersed in the fierce, elemental wildness of the Celtic fringes of the Roman Empire.

The Mark of the Horse Lord is full of big ideas as well - loyalty, honour, magic, faith, fraternity, trust, the bond between men and women, and the use and abuse of power. It's a tough, realistic read, despite the glittering prose, but the adult themes are explored in a manner that in no way undermines the innocence of Sutcliff's young readers. On the contrary, it's an education in what makes people tick - what they'll fight and die for, and how far an individual is prepared to go to become something greater than he currently is.

Many of Sutcliff's novels, such as The Lantern Bearers and Outcast, feature a Phaedrus-like figure as the main protagonist - a young man with a broken family struggling to find his way in life. Though her books have been enjoyed for decades by both sexes, I would say there is something particularly valuable here for young men, particularly in an age like the present where so much confusion and disorientation reigns concerning traditional male values and the role of men in society. The Mark of the Horse Lord is the story of a warrior - a man who has to fight every inch of the way - in himself, in his own community, and in the wider world of tribal and imperial conflict. Phaedrus finds his journey from gladiator to king tough going to say the least, but he sticks to his guns, trusts his intuition, does what he feels in his gut to be right, and grows in the end into something almost Arthurian, far more royal and archetypal than the impersonator and figurehead he was originally supposed to be.

The best thing of all about this book is that it posits a world freighted with meaning and value. It stands, as such, as a terrific antidote to hopelessness and despair. The ending may not be conventionally happy, but I found it deeply fulfilling in all the ways that matter. There is a pattern and harmony behind the plot's cut and thrust which Phaedrus begins to sense as the novel approaches its conclusion. But it only reveals itself and he only enters into it when he is ready, and that is what occurs at the very end of the book. 

Sammy Mountjoy, Golding's narrator in Free Fall, sees the world shot through with the Divine after his release from solitary confinement in a German prisoner of war camp:

Beyond the trees the mountains were not only clear all through like purple glass, but living. They sang and were conjubilant. They were not all that sang. Everything is related to everything else and all relationship is either discord or harmony. The power of gravity, dimension and space, the movement of the earth and sun and unseen stars, these made what might be called music and I heard it ...

What happens to Phaedrus on the last page of Sutcliff's novel belongs, I believe, on a deeper level again. It is a coronation and a consummation, an initiation into the mythic depths of sacred kingship. You will have to read it to find out! I promise you, it will stay with you forever.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Nationalism must be Romantic to be effective

 Picture by Caspar David Friedrich

The age of Nationalism was a brief interlude, of a couple of generations, after the decline of Christian faith began during the ruling classes, during the 19th century. All the effective Nationalist movements were substantially Romantic - that is, their appeal was to a mystical ideal of Nation, and to spiritual goals such as Glory - rather than to (for example) economic self-interest or any other materialism.

Which is one why Nationalism is a dead duck in the West, now - because the mass of people are absolutely incapable of that kind of yearning Romanticism based on the nation.

And one reason they are incapable is that all the major social institutions in all the Western nations have been infiltrated, conquered and subverted by materialistic Leftist bureaucracy and a hedonistic mass media. Instead of Romanticism we have sex and statistics. And that is what people 'believe in' - insomuch as they believe-in anything...

We are not Romantic about the material actuality of our Nations - but we can be Romantic about their spiritual and mystical realities - But, only if we believe that these realities are really-real...

The spiritual revolution will come from that about-which we are really-Romantic - spontaneously, from the heart, strongly such that it occupies our daydreams and lends us courage.

The scope of the revolution will be determined by the number of people thus aligned.

The effect of the spiritual revolution is utterly unpredictable - because when our metaphysics has changed and our aspirations are transformed - everything will look different.

We will then, but not until then, know what we ought to do, and will be energised and inspired to do it.

In the mean time we should nourish our hearts, strengthen our thinking, and attend to what is Romantic to us.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Miserere Nostri

My last post spoke of the need for penitence. It's a recognition of our many sins and failings, and of our utter dependence on God. At the same time, God wants people able to stand on their own two feet and face the iniquities of the world with courage and without being downcast by them. He also wants us to recognise that we have goodness and truth within ourselves. We are not simply worthless sinners. We are sons and daughters of God, children of light who, given time, can grow into gods ourselves.

But it all must start with repentance. I find this perfectly represented in music by one of Albion's greatest composers who was working in one of the times of its greatest creativity, even though it was a hard and cruel time in many ways. Thomas Tallis lived from 1505 to 1585 through a period of religious upheaval and constant change. But in these often difficult years he produced some of the best music ever made in England. This brief piece is a seven part canon and expresses the feelings of the true penitent with deep emotion. It also seems very suitable for Lent.

Repentance is like a cleansing of the soul. Of course, this is not a one off thing. We will constantly fall back, but if we are sincere in our desire to amend our lives then every failure will spur us on to greater efforts. It's an extraordinary thing but God will always forgive us as long as we recognise our shortcomings. Whenever we turn to him for help it will be forthcoming, though not necessarily in the way we might expect since God is working in the long term not just to save us in the conventional Christian sense but to bring us to a full and complete union with him in which our heart and mind are transformed into pure love and truth, and our very being is transfigured into light.

The modern person often doesn't like the idea of repentance because it seems feeble. You are passing your burdens onto someone else and admitting your weakness. You are giving up which is unmanly. I understand this. But true repentance is simply admitting that you have taken a wrong turning at a very deep level and become 'addicted' to ego. Its consequences are very far from feeble for once you have repented of your past sins it is time to 'fight the good fight' and try to change for the better. Believe me, that is the hardest fight anyone will ever undertake. To be sure, God will help you but you have to do the work yourself. God will not do it for you even if he will support you as you do it. But if you are to change who else can do it but you yourself? If God accomplished this work for you then you would just be his slave and he doesn't want slaves. He wants free spirits, but free spirits dedicated to the good and the true and the upliftment of the world.

So forget about repentance being for the weak. It is actually for the strong, those strong enough to tackle themselves and admit they are wrong.