A "ghostly presence"

From Mr. Hitchens:

I love the Church of England. By that I do not mean its bishops, its arid modern prayers and poetry-free, unmemorable modern bibles, nor its stripped and carpeted modernised churches, its compulsory handshakes, perky modern hymns or happy-clappy conventicles where everyone is saved. If I'm saved it was such a narrow squeak that I think it wiser not to go on about it, as the man said.

What I love is the wondrous Elizabethan settlement which refused to make windows into men's souls and allowed Catholics and Protestants to forget their differences in a rather beautiful ambiguity.

That settlement is expressed in several ways. It lingers in buildings, in books, in music, a sort of ghostly presence just within reach at certain times of day and in a few unravaged, unwrecked parts of this country. It also continues to survive as a body of thought, song and literature, quite immune from the peculiar bureaucratic organisation which currently uses the Church's name.

It is still often to be found in churches and cathedrals which - though sadly stripped of much loveliness - managed to retain and guard far more of their pre-Reformation mystery and art than in any other Protestant country.

It is to be found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, itself quarried from Coverdale's Bible and from the later Authorised Version, written in the Golden Age of the English language by people who understood poetry, cadence, music and memory - and who were concerned to keep what they could of a much older heritage.


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