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The Christian Church in the Cold War.

The Christian Church in the Cold War. Owen Chadwick. Allen Lane the Penguin Press. 18.99 [pounds].

In his biography of Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1945 to 1961, Edward Carpenter, formerly Dean of Westminster has produced a |magisterial' biography in the Victorian manner. Its 840 pages and its detached, balanced approach mark it as a biography in the grand tradition.

While Geoffrey Fisher lacked the charisma of Lincoln's Edward King, admittedly a saint, or the brilliance of Fisher's successor, Michael Ramsay, he was a far better archbishop than Ramsay though less of a theologian. He was a superb organiser and administrator: he had been, after all, headmaster of Repton. He was also a man of deep faith. His career in the Church is not the stuff of which great legends are made: Oxford, headmaster, bishop, archbishop. He may not sparkle and there may be no |real man' exposed here for the psychologists to analyse. (The author only devotes 125 pages to Fisher's life before his elevation to Canterbury.) Yet there are occasionally touches that do illuminate: in 1944, Fisher, then Bishop of London, heard of the death of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury. Though he was in the Robing Room of the House of Lords, his first action was to kneel by one of the chairs where he remained in prayer for an hour. Once, when Archbishop, he joined his wife and some of the choristers from Canterbury Cathedral for afternoon tea in his pyjamas: his excuse was that Oxford's defeat in the University Boat Race had so depressed him that he had stayed in bed all day.

To most people Archbishop Fisher will be remembered as the man who crowned the Queen in 1953 and who told Princess Margaret that she could not marry Group Captain Townsend. (The latter story is confirmed as being quite untrue: the decision was the Princess's alone.) But Geoffrey Fisher's time at Lambeth was marked by many extremely important events: it was he who built up colonial churches into self-governing members of the Anglican Communion. It was he who laboured, often in the face of appalling bigotry, to establish better relations with the Roman Catholic Church in England. It was he who went on a world pilgrimage to visit Patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches and it was he who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury since the sixteenth century to visit the Pope. His vision of Christian reunion may appear now to have been limited: as something of a Broad Churchman he tended to adhere to the old view of a |Communion of Communions'. If so this must not lessen his achievement, especially when we consider the odds against him. Indeed, his work may have been all the more successful because of his known views. His orderly mind was also seen at its best when faced with the uncanonical ordination of women as priests: it was a question of church order and discipline, not theology. Even after fifty years of debate few grasp this point. The chapters relating to Fisher's work for Christian reunion make fascinating reading.

While some of the chapters are rather short and while one may regret the lack of notes, one cannot but admire a true work of scholarship, well written and well produced.

Owen Chadwick's history of the Christian Church is volume seven in The Penguin History of the Church, edited by Owen Chadwick who also wrote the volume on the Reformation. Its 230 pages make it seem a light-weight in relation to Edward Carpenter's biography. The book accomplishes its object in providing a survey of the Christian Church -- by which is meant the Church in Europe -- in the years after 1945. The book is divided into sections on Eastern and Western Europe and most chapters are devoted to themes rather than to individuals or countries. The mammoth field to be covered perhaps explains why the book reads in many parts more as notes than finished text. One appreciates that the book is dedicated, in part, to Michael Bordeaux whose Keston College did so much to point out the evils of Communism while others in the West wished them left unmentioned. One cannot but wonder why the volume was not written by Michael Bordeaux.

James Munson
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Author:Munson, James
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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