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Religious belief in a tempest tossed church

  • 29 March 2017


In The Tempest Tossed Church, author and critic Gerard Windsor explores his appropriation of Catholic faith. Its title is drawn from a sombre 19th century hymn whose tone is embodied in the line, 'Save us from peril and from woe'. Its fearfulness is echoed in much reflection on the state of the Church today. But not in Windsor's book.

It is exploratory, teasing out for a general audience what being Catholic means to him today. The exploratory quality differentiates it from authoritative expositions of Catholic faith, the rebuttal of external or internal enemies and exercises in self-justification, reminiscence, criticism, lament or celebration. Although it contains elements of all these genres it is imprisoned in none.

Explorers are judged by how much territory they cover, how attentive an eye they have and how many aspects of the terrain they reveal. Windsor passes all these tests. He teases out the complex strands of the lived experience of being Catholic at different times and in different contexts of his life, displaying the symbolic force of the images, practices and language that have shaped Catholic life.

He attends to the intellectual challenges of Catholic belief, such as the reasons why someone may believe in God in the face of widespread disbelief and massive evil and suffering. He also gives full weight to the dissuasive power of corruption in the Catholic Church, revealed most recently in the horrifying child sexual abuse and its cover up by Catholic officials.

In his explorations his distinctive gift lies in his deep respect for words in what they both can and cannot say, and for the breadth of the religious and literary culture in which they are rooted. This gift echoes the central importance in Catholic tradition of the belief that the Word became flesh, which directs believers to seek God in the relationships and encounters of everyday life.


"As in other tight knit communities tribalism faded with affluence and equal opportunity, a growing cultural emphasis on individual choice and the spread of an ideology that valued people as economic competitors."


It implies that in everything we see and do is greater and deeper than we can measure or analyse. As a result words must be qualified as shallow or deep as well as accurate or inaccurate. By these criteria Windsor calls out both Catholic and anti-Catholic propaganda.

The compass bearings in the book are found in the vignettes that introduce each topic. With his