Sunday, 19 February 2012


Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamd of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

On the face of it, the idea that the sins of the world can just be 'taken away' appears banal.

That the complication of the idea should lie in someone, at once 'the son of man' and 'the son of god', taking on responsibility for those sins beyond number and accepting a hideous physical punishment and death to 'redeem' mankind, past and future might seem to add a degree of repellancy and absurdity.

That all mankind should, from birth, not only be guilty of those sins, but unable by their own decisions or efforts to atone for them, might seem the final unacceptability to anyone of refined intelligence and sensibility.

Yet people whose intelligence and sensibility lead them in that direction also wish to appreciate directly within themselves the cultural significance of Salisbury Cathedral, Bach's St Matthew Passion or Byrd's Three Part Mass.

The Passion and the Mass unite sublime expressions of the most abstract of the arts with the most explicit and world-contaminated art of words. I do not think the two can be divorced in an understanding or valuation of those works. I do not mean that one necessarily has to accept, as the creators accepted, the beliefs that lie within them and largely motivated their authors, but unless one is prepared to value and enter into those beliefs in some meaningful sense, I think the appreciation must always remain shallow.

The art reveals a validity in something which, at an abstract level, appears unacceptable. I do not think one can say, how wonderful it is that something so beautiful and expressive can be constructed on the basis of something that is simply untrue or does not exist. The two cannot be separated.

So, whilst the question, Does God exist? seems to me to be worthy of the sixth-form debating society, I do not think a mere sense of 'wonder' at 'religious' art suffices to make one a sophisticated inheritor of our common culture. Not of course that the opposite necessarily applies.