Interview with Peter Hitchens
For decades, Peter Hitchens has been a very public figure. He’s a journalist, columnist, TV commentator, former Marxist, and always clearly spoken and quotable. The English Churchman interviewed him on his public role as a Christian who happens to also be a traditional Anglican.
Our interview with him is presented verbatim.
EC: Why are you such an advocate for traditional Book of Common Prayer worship? Would you describe it chiefly as an aesthetic, cultural, or theological preference?
PH: I don’t think these things can be separated. Form and content, in language, music and architecture, are entwined with each other. The recognition of Divine sovereignty over the universe cannot be properly expressed in the language of bureaucracy or advertising. It is a belief rather than a thought. It is an act of the imagination. The Prayer Book is written in a language which repeatedly acknowledges the existence of the eternal, as not just a rival to the temporal, but as a superior and more important thing. I’d go further. Music, as we know, expresses what is inexpressible through words alone. Poetry, which much of the Prayer Book aims at, allows words to say more than prose does. By poetry here I don’t mean rhyming and scanning verse, but language consciously crafted to be as beautiful an expression of its meaning as possible. Our forebears were simply better at this than we are, because of the age they lived in. This has much to do with the fact that it was written to be spoken aloud and I do not doubt that its authors *did speak it aloud many times as they perfected it. This is something few writers of modern prose do, which is why the result so often looks and sounds as if it has been created by using the blunt end of a bread pudding. The Prayer Book was not the ‘Common Worship’ of its day. Its authors intended beauty, and intended the music of the words to echo among the arches of buildings they also knew to be lovely. That beauty flows through the heart, mind and tongue of anybody who makes the effort to speak it properly. I have heard the Prayer Book mangled, but not often, It generally takes hold of anyone who reads it. What I object to strongly is the idea that there is something wrong, secular or frivolous about loving the beauty of the language. Beauty is truth, and goodness is both beautiful and truthful. We have the most astonishing piece of truth to communicate, the greatest events in human thought, literature and philosophy, an explanation of the universe which changes the life of anyone who embraces it, forever. Why would we present them in a banal and sapless form? It would be like inscribing the Magna Carta on the back of a menu, holding a Coronation Service in a shopping mall, or playing Beethoven’s 7th on a mouth organ.
EC: You are one of the most public figures in the UK and yet unlike most, you are quick to identify as a practising Anglican Christian? Why are you willing to be so public?
Read it all at The English Churchman.