Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Dover circa 1825
Watercolour on paper
support: 161 x 245 mm
Tate Britain, London
Waterloo Crescent & Esplanade, Dover
The British Library, London
In his recent address to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict appeared to have a "Dover Beach" moment
"As we know, in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of being extinguished, like a flame that has lost its fuel. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense, that constitutes the Church's greatest challenge today. The renewal of faith, then, must be the priority in the work of the whole Church in our time."
First published in 1867, Arnold`s words were probably written much earlier:
"The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world"
Arnold and Victorian Christianity were greatly affected by the great convulsions of their time and society: the rise of Darwinism, the undermining of the certainity of faith by science such as the rise of geology, the Industrial revolution and its massive economic effects, the rise of Liberalism (political and economic), Imperialism, clashes between Church and State. Old certainties were no longer certain.
Arnold`s prescription was a call to Love and to the Light amongst the Darkness and Violent Discord:
"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help from pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night"
One of Benedict`s remedies is the forthcoming Year of Faith:
"It is my wish that the Year of Faith contribute, with the cordial collaboration of all of the People of God, to making God present again in this world and to opening to men the way to faith, to entrusting themselves to that God who loved us to the end (cf. John 13:1), in Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
The theme of the unity of Christians is closely connected to this task. ...
[I]ndifferentism is caused by the opinion, which continues to spread, that truth is not accessible to man and that it is thus necessary to limit ourselves to finding rules for a praxis that would be capable of improving the world. And in this way the faith would be replaced by a moralism without any deep foundation.
The centre of true ecumenism is instead the faith in which man encounters the truth that is revealed in the Word of God. Without the faith the whole ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of "social contract" that is agreed to because of a common interest, a "praxeology" aimed at creating a better world.
The logic of Vatican II is completely different: the pursuit of the complete unity of Christians is a dynamism animated by the Word of God, by the divine Truth that speaks to us in this Word"