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Church Times Diary August 2017

Church Times Diary August 2017

I’m hugely chuffed. After many years of book collecting, I have obtained my personal holy grail, a signed copy of Iris Murdoch’s first novel “Under the Net”. Ok, it’s a 6th Impression and is missing much of the dust wrapper, but it is still a 1st edition and, what is more, bears the ownership signature of another luminary, the theologian E. L. Mascall. Murdoch and Mascall were both contributors to an enlightened Oxford University enterprise called the Socratic Society, founded by the poet and student pastor Stella Ardwinkle under the Presidency of C.S. Lewis in 1941. It was intended to be a forum for discussion between Christians and non Christians. Writing  about it later, Lewis described it thus: "In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university, there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into 'coteries' where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumour that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.” He concluded, rather charmingly, “at the very least we helped to civilise one another” In these days of fake news and alternative truth, it sounds an echo of a bygone, saner age.

 
I never met Mascall, but he comes over as one of those idiosyncratic Anglo-Catholic big hitters who are altogether rarer these days. He was a theological heavyweight (he was Professor of Historical Theology at King’s London) but his collection of nonsense verse “Pi in the High” points to a whimsicality that leavened a formidable intellect. In the forward he commented “To take oneself too seriously is bad theology.” I couldn’t agree more.


I encountered Iris Murdoch briefly at a book signing during a Charleston Festival in 1995. She was in a discussion with the writer Victoria Glendinning who had told Dame Iris of her Jewish and Catholic antecedents . “My dear” she had said “aren’t you lucky? You have so many paths to God.” Talking to her afterwards, I told her I was a priest: “what interesting conversations we could have” she replied with real warmth. She signed a book for me, adding a little cross & fish rebus which I’ve seen subsequently in other books she’s signed & take to be a Christian fellow traveller sign.  Sadly, in retrospect, in the pauses and struggling for words, the Altzheimers she famously battled against was becoming evident, but I still treasure the encounter.

 The Rector – John Wall

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