Information

Henry Scott Holland


Henry Scott Holland was born at Ledbury, Herefordshire, on 27th January, 1847. Henry's father, George Holland, was extremely wealthy and could afford to send his son to Eton. Henry was not an outstanding student and he initially failed his entrance exam at Oxford University. He tried again in 1866 and this time he was successful.

Holland struggled academically until he came under the influence of Thomas Hill Green, the senior tutor in philosophy at Balliol. Holland was inspired by Green's ideas on religion and social reform and he eventually obtained a "First in Greats", one of the highest academic honours at Oxford.

Impressed by his academic achievements, Holland was offered the post of lecturer in philosophy at Christ Church College. As well as teaching Holland found time to publish several books and articles including The Duties of the Parochial Clergy Toward Some Forms of Modern Thought(1873). Holland also began visiting industrial slums in Britain. He was deeply shocked by what he discovered and began to argue for Mission Houses to be built that would serve as a point of contact between the "academic community and the deprived classes".

In 1884 Holland left Oxford University and became a canon at St. Paul's Cathedral. Holland's experience of social problems in London convinced him that the Church of England needed to change. In his controversial book Lux Mundi (1889) Holland argued that Christianity was to be experienced, not contemplated. He suggested that the Church needed to reject the "old truths" and to "enter into an understanding of the new social and intellectual movements of the present". Holland pointed out that the "streets of London reek with human misery" and the Church could no longer afford to ignore this suffering. Holland advocated radical reform, or what he called, the "Christianization of the social structure whereby all men live in accordance with the principles of divine justice and human brotherhood".

Henry Scott Holland formed a group called PESEK (Politics, Economics, Socialism, Ethics and Christianity). Members of the group investigated social problems and came to the conclusion that the plight of the urban poor was due to the way capitalists "exploited the working classes". In one report Holland declared that "Powerless! that is what the workers bitterly experience. They have been enfranchised only to find themselves powerless to determine how they will live their own lives."

In Holland's opinion modern capitalist companies had no conscience and were therefore acting immorally. According to Holland, capital and labour should be cooperating forces, sharing a common objective, but the system had turned them into unequal rivals. Holland's solution to the problem was state regulation. Only the state was powerful enough to "evoke, to direct, to supervise, to empower, and to regulate the actions" of capital and labour. The role of the Anglican Church declared Holland should be to convince society that "duty to God and duty to man are the same thing."

In 1889 Holland formed the Christian Social Union (CSU) to provide direction to this new social gospel. The stated purpose of the CSU was to "investigate areas in which moral truth and Christian principles could bring relief to the social and economic disorder of society". Local chapters of the CSU were established throughout Britain.

The Christian Social Union also published a journal, Commonwealth, that provided a forum for discussions on religion and social reform. The journal and upset the leaders of the Liberal Party in 1897 when he claimed that the party had failed to protect labour from capitalism. The Commonwealth suggested that wealthy Liberals who showed no sympathy for the poor should be ousted from the party.

The Commonwealth also carried out an investigation into the injustices of bad housing, pollution and low wages. It also campaigned strongly against the Poor Law that forced people into the workhouse. The Christian Social Union also published a large number of pamphlets and booklets that suggested solutions to social problems. This included a minimum wage and state benefits for the unemployed.

In 1910 Holland returned to Oxford University as Regius Professor of Divinity. Holland's health deteriorated after 1914 and he was restricted in the work that he could do. Henry Scott Holland died on 17th March, 1918.


THE KING OF TERRORS: THE THEOLOGY OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND.

AUNT has just died. In A Question of Integrity, Susan Howatch's latest novel, Alice Harrison opens her aunt's will to see if this feisty old woman has left any funeral instructions. Indeed she has, including the command: 'Under no circumstances whatsoever should that ghastly but popular passage from the writings of Canon Henry Scott Holland be read.'

We can be quite sure that on the day of her funeral no-one heard Holland's well known words: 'Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was [ldots] What is death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the comer. All is well. Nothing is hurt nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall all laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!'

The 'ghastly' passage may never have been read at Aunt's funeral, but if anyone has ever heard of Scott Holland, these are the words they have most likely heard. On this depends the contemporary reputation of a militant advocate of social reform, one of London's greatest nineteenth-century preachers, an Oxford Regius Professor and the spiritual leader of a second generation of Tractarians known as Liberal Catholics.

Why should a man of such stature write such sentimental nonsense? How can it possibly fit with the militant sentiments of his well known hymn, Judge Eternal Robed in Splendour with its prophetic cry: 'fire of judgement purge this land'? The oft quoted words themselves come from a sermon called 'King of Terrors', preached in St. Paul's Cathedral on the occasion of the death of King Edward VII.

Something has obviously gone wrong. There is a contradiction here that has to be explained. And Holland himself sets out to explain it. That is the real point of the sermon, to help his hearers understand the all pervading contradiction in every human life, especially when it surfaces at the time of death. On the one hand there is the terror of the inexplicable: 'so ruthless, so blundering -- this death that we must die. It is the cruel ambush into which we are snared. It is the pit of destruction. It wrecks, it defeats, it shatters. Can any end be more untoward, more irrational than this?' Then there is the inner conviction of personal continuity which death cannot destroy, a feeling that 'death is nothing at all.' Both experiences are real and somehow must be held together in our consciousness. Though 'now we are the sons of God . . . it does not yet appear what we shall be' - this is the terror. We are to grow to be like Jesus, and the heart cannot imagine what that shall be. We are afraid of the growth. We recoil at the prospect of so radical a change. Yet, Holland reassures his congregation, in the power of the Spirit we need not be afraid for 'when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is' -- this is our hope, and the source of our conviction that death is but an accidental moment that changes nothing. By our baptism death is now behind us, not in front, so that as Christians we can walk into the unknown with confidence. Holland concludes, 'Let the dead things go, and lay hold on life. Purify yourself as He bids you Who is pure. Then the old will drop away from you, and the new wonder will begin. You will find yourself already passed from death to life, and far ahead strange possibilities will open up beyond the power of your heart to conceive.'

In 'King of Terrors' Holland describes an outer reality that terrifies, and an inner conviction that assures. This paradoxical relationship between the certain knowledge of our inner self and the provisional knowledge of outward fact informs all Holland's philosophy and theology, as well as his social and political beliefs.

Holland lays the foundation for this theology of paradox by first exploring the nature of faith, and it is here that he exhibits his greatest originality and makes his most lasting contribution. As Michael Ramsey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, once told the author, 'I have never read any other theologian's analysis of faith to compare with that of Scott Holland's.'

Holland examines the nature of faith in the opening sermons of his very first book, Logic and Life (1882), a collection of sermons which the editor of The Spectator, R. H. Hutton, said would be read as long as there are English people interested in its great themes (6 May 1882). Holland himself was to say of the book many years later: 'All that I have ever said was there.'

Ever an apologist at heart, in these sermons Holland sets himself the task of finding new reasons for justifying the hope that is within us. He repudiates the apologetic approach, made popular by Paley in the eighteenth century and still common in mid-Victorian England, that attempted to justify the Christian faith by reasoning from the external evidences of nature. Faith, he argues, requires certainty whereas reason is always provisional. Yet faith without reason lapses into mere subjective feeling. Inner conviction and objective reason are both needed and have to be combined in such a way as to overcome the provisionality of reason and the subjectivism of inner feeling.

They are combined, Holland contends, by the act of faith itself. Faith is neither the final product of an intellectual process nor an irrational leap supported by inner conviction, but an act of will which unites inner conviction and the intellectual process, an act which begins with our own self-awareness. Faith requires confidence in the experience of our own interior personality, and herein lies its certainty. For Holland, we cannot believe in God unless we first believe in ourselves.

At times, especially in his earlier works, Holland talks as though this inner certainty is a sufficient justification for our beliefs. Having been influenced by the Hegelian idealism of his mentor, T. H. Green, he occasionally leaves himself open to the subjectivism he tries to avoid, seeming to dismiss the need for rational argument. Yet Holland never denies its importance, but insists that far from being simply an external objective process rationality inheres within our inner personal life. 'A personality, though its roots lie deeper than reason, yet includes reason within its compass [ldots] A personality, therefore, is intelligible [ldots] That which is loved can be apprehended that which is felt can be named.' ('Faith' in Lux Mundi.)

Faith is that daring act of the will in which we reach out to grasp objective fact. By faith we move from the isolation of our own self-awareness where certainty lies, into the darkness and terror of the unknown world of external fact, only to discover that in that terror lies our hope.

We are able to risk the terror because we already have some antecedent awareness that we are related to that which is not ourselves. We have intimations of a personal relationship with the cosmos which Holland calls sonship. The act of faith depends upon an attitude of filial dependence. Through loosing ourselves we can find ourselves. 'What a paradox, you say? Yes! For all life, at its root, is paradoxical. It can, that is, only be expressed in the form of antithetical propositions.' Our knowledge of the external world comes from our inner sense of filial dependence, and when we become conscious of this fact we have the beginnings of religious faith. We recognize that the very impetus to move out of ourselves comes from the action of a divine Father working at the very heart of our personality. This God who moves us into the terror of the unknown reveals Himself in the correspondence we discover between our experience of the external world and the experience of our inner self.

Yet, by itself this experience is always incomplete and the reasoning built upon it always provisional. Only in Christ do all the isolated pieces of personal experiences come together. In him there is a perfect consistency and correspondence among all the facets of experience, in Him alone is perfect rationality. In the terror of the unknown we discover a coinherence that centres in Christ. The King of Terrors becomes our peace.

For the Christian the provisionality of natural reason becomes a certainty because his faith centres in an objective personal event 'which draws the chaos of human life into harmonious coherence which re-establishes and vindicates the obscured goodness of God which leaves behind it a perpetuated stir of evident and concordant activities.' And, Holland asks: 'Is not all that, taken together, the appropriate verification of its solid validity? And is not that a verification in which you and I may still share today?'

Scott Holland was neither sentimental nor soft in the head, but was he perhaps, along with other so-called Liberal Catholics, a little soft on the traditional faith of the Church, as many present-day theological liberals, such as Affirming Catholics, would have us believe? To answer, we must take a fresh look at the Lux Mundi essays in the light of Holland's other writings.

In 1889 Scott Holland, with a group of friends who called themselves 'The Holy Party', published these essays in an attempt, as they said in their preface, 'to put the Catholic faith into its right relation to modern intellectual and moral problems.' Much to their surprise, the essays exploded both within the established church and the public mind with such force that the collection went through ten editions in the first year. As Scott Holland was to say a year after its publication, 'We ourselves seemed to ourselves to have been saying these things for years, and to have heard everybody else saying them. Now suddenly we find it all spoken of as a bomb, as a new Oxford Movement, etc., etc. We wonder who we are.'

The essay on 'The Holy Spirit and Inspiration' by Charles Gore, future Bishop of Oxford and founder of the monastic Community of the Resurrection, created by far the greatest controversy. Gore urged the church to accept the conclusions of continental biblical criticism regarding the interpretation of the Old Testament, arguing that this need not in any way diminish the proper authority of scripture. It seemed a mild enough concession to contemporary scholarship, but an older generation of Tractarians were so distressed at this apparent capitulation to a liberal view of scripture that the more extreme among them publicly denounced the essays at the next Church Congress, and many believed it drove Liddon, the most militant of Tractarians, to his grave.

Charles Gore, the youngest and newest member of the Holy Party and a childhood friend of Scott Holland, was not at first asked to write, but only to do the editorial work on the entire volume. Then at the last minute the essayists realized that they had not included an essay on the interpretation of scripture and asked Gore to do something. He wrote on the spur of the moment and perhaps without giving the subject the careful thought it deserved, for he made several revisions and clarifications in later editions. Nevertheless his essay soon came to be identified with the thought of all the authors and to define the meaning of what came to be called 'Liberal Catholicism'.

These Anglican Liberal Catholics of the late nineteenth century had little in common with those humanist liberals railed against by Newman and other Tractarians, nor with that Protestant liberalism which developed into an anti-dogmatic reconstruction of the Christian faith. For Gore, who first used the term to describe his own theological position and that of his fellow essayists, liberal Catholicism was not revisionist but thoroughly scriptural, winding its way between a Protestant fundamentalism and a Roman dogmatism. This, Gore claimed, typified the theological approach of the Church of England which, as he insisted, 'has stood for what can best be described as a liberal or scriptural Catholicism.'

Far from modifying traditional Catholic principles in the light of contemporary ideologies, the authors of Lux Mundi claimed that 'the real development of theology is rather the process in which the Church standing firm in her old truths, enters into the apprehension of the new social and intellectual movements of each age.' Whereas Benjamin Jowett had hoped, some thirty years before, that Essays and Reviews would disturb the complacency of the faithful, the contributors to Lux Mundi desired to lend support to a faith that was already disturbed. Though some Affirming Catholics like to think of the Lux Mundi writers as their forefathers in the faith, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike the present Bishop of Edinburgh, they were not trying to modify the Christian faith to meet the demands of some imaginary church in exile, but aimed, as Holland says in his own essay, at 'succouring a distressed faith'.

As Holland had written a few years before, they hoped to do this by 'laying before the minds of many[lodts] such interpretation of the natural and spiritual worlds in which we move, as may possibly assist them in detecting their coherence with the truth, as it is in Christ Jesus.' (Logic and Life, 1883). Holland pleads for a return to 'that rich splendor, that large-hearted fulness of power, which characterizes the great Greek masters of theology' and suggests that the faith of Athanasius, of St. Paul and of St. John 'would, if known as they knew it, lay hold of the wealth of modern science, and of the secrets of modern culture, and of the desires and the necessities of modern spirit.' Today we may think that, like so many of his contemporaries, Holland is somewhat naive about the benefits of modem science and the secrets of modern culture. Yet he never tries to accommodate the historic faith to their underlying presuppositions, and when he believes these run contrary to the Christian faith he is their most ardent adversary. As Sir Michael Sadler said on hearing the news of his death in 1918, 'He saved many men of a very hesitating generation, from being over-mastered by Herbert Spencerism and the first kind of Huxleyism.'

Holland chose book titles like Creeds and Critics, Facts of the Faith and On Behalf of Belief, because he was an apologist for the old faith who also wanted to take into account the latest intellectual developments of his time. For Holland one required the other. 'My chief desire is to convince any who care to read me, of the fulness and largeness and wealth and freedom that are to be found in the full Catholic Creed and in the Sacramental Ideal.' And this fullness and freedom depended upon the dogmatic belief in the uniqueness of Christ. In a militant defence of dogma he argues that the attitude which lets Christianity 'appear as one among the world religions [ldots] has already surrendered unconsciously the very secret of the faith, i.e., the unique and solitary pre-eminence of Jesus Christ', and then says that this is why 'it comes up against the assertiveness of dogma with such a shock of repugnance'. This was the conviction of all the Lux Mundi essayists and explains why they began their collection of e ssays with Holland's essay on the nature of faith. To suggest that Henry Scott Holland was a forerunner of today's theological liberals because he appreciated the positive values of his culture and attempted to relate them to the historic faith, would be like claiming that C. S. Lewis was a forerunner of Maurice Wiles because Lewis wrote Christian myths for children and Wiles wrote 'Myth of God Incarnate'.

Believing that faith is primarily an act of the will, Holland at times seems to emphasise action to the neglect of contemplation. He certainly was not sympathetic towards the spirituality of Fr. Benson and the Cowley Fathers, and he once commented to a friend considering the monastic life, 'It is true that a rolling stone gathers no moss, but then, why should it?' By temperament he was a preacher and an apologist rather than an academic scholar. As Gore was to confess many years later, it was his task in life to write footnotes to Holland's intellectual brilliance.

In Holland there is a tough minded theological reasoning woven into a style of popular preaching rare in his own day and seemingly impossible in our own. But his very popularity as a preacher kept many from appreciating the depth of his theological insight. Having suffered from severe headaches much of his life, he claimed that for many years he had done no serious theological study, and for that reason, until his friends persuaded him otherwise, refused to accept his appointment as Oxford's Regius Professor of Divinity. He used to say that an article he wrote on Justin Martyr in 1882 for a Dictionary of Christian Biography was the only piece of proper scholarship he had ever achieved, though other works would belie this disclaimer. His scholarly works were few but far ranging: a study of the Apostolic Fathers, the Romanes Lecture on Joseph Butler, an unfinished study of the Fourth Gospel, and, together with William Rockstro, the definitive biography of the popular opera singer, Jenny Lind. His understanding of consciousness, subconsciousness and the superconsciousness, and the role they play in the act of faith predates the insights of later psychology, and few have had a more profound insight into the controversy, resurrected in our own day, between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History.

Nevertheless, his emphasis upon action made Holland a social reformer rather than a cloistered scholar. In social action as in his apologetics, Holland always tried to grasp the larger view, causing more radical social reformers like Steward Headlam, founder of The Guild of St. Matthew, to see some of his activities as an actual threat to the cause of Christian Socialism, and the eccentric Christian Socialist, Conrad Noel, to refer to Holland's Christian Social Union, founded by Holland in the same year that Lux Mundi was published, as 'that mild and watery society for social reform.'

Remaining an active member of both the Guild of St. Matthew and the Christian Social Union, Holland believed they complemented one another, the Guild existing to take the Christian Revelation into the world and the Christian Social Union 'to drag the social question inside the Church.' As Maurice Reckitt put it, 'Holland sought to interpret the signs of the times and to win men to his own understanding of what that interpretation required.' In that attempt the CSU, perhaps more than anything else, was responsible, as a leading broad churchman lamented several years later, for turning the Church of England from 'the Conservative Party at prayer[ldots] [to] the Socialist Party at Mass.'

Holland's social philosophy, like all of his theology, was built upon the belief, similar to that of Charles Williams, in the universal co-inherence of all things, material and spiritual, earthly and heavenly, and like Charles Williams he derives this understanding from the Eastern Fathers. The co-inherence comes from the consistency of the divine will, yet is marred by sin. Its remedy is the sacrificial action of Jesus Christ, and its perfection is embodied in His resurrected body. From now to the eschaton, the transfiguring action of Christ through the sacramental actions of His people are continually turning the earthly city into the sacrament of the heavenly. This is the work and the purpose of social action, to save the world, not by liberalizing the church's beliefs but by transfiguring all things into a sacramental relationship with God. Here again the 'King of Terrors' becomes our only hope, transfiguring, through the actions of His Church, even the suffering people who cry out for our aid into 'livi ng pledges of Himself, sacraments of His Passion.'

The Rev. Dr H. Heidt, B. Litt, D. Phil (Oxon), a former Vicar of Up Hatherley, Cheltenham and Editor of The Christian World, now Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Dallas, Texas, is writing a book about Scott Holland.


Henry Scott Holland - History

I suppose all of us hover between two ways of regarding death, which appear to be in hopeless contradiction with each other. First there is the familiar and instinctive recoil from it as embodying the supreme and irrevocable disaster.

But, then, there is another aspect altogether which death can wear for us. It is that which first comes to us, perhaps, as we look down upon the quiet face, so cold and white, of one who has been very near and dear to us. There it lies in possession of its own secret. It knows it all. So we seem to feel. And what the face says in its sweet silence to us as a last message from one whom we loved is:

"Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!"

So the face speaks. Surely while we speak there is a smile flitting over it a smile as of gentle fun at the trick played us by seeming death.

--Canon Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), from a sermon preached 15 May 1910, Saint Paul's, London.


Death Is Nothing At All

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

Nothing is past nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.


Death is nothing at All — Canon Henry Scott-Holland, UK, 1847-1918

I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

From ‘The King of Terrors’, a sermon on death delivered in St Paul’s Cathedral on Whitsunday 1910, while the body of King Edward VII was lying in state at Westminster: published in Facts of the Faith, 1919.


All is Well (by Henry Scott-Holland)

All is well.
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.


Henry Holland

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Henry Holland, (born July 20, 1745, Fulham [now London], England—died June 17, 1806, Chelsea [now London]), English architect whose elegant, simple Neoclassicism contrasted with the more lavish Neoclassical style of his great contemporary Robert Adam.

Beginning as an assistant to his father, a successful builder, Holland later became the partner and son-in-law of the landscape architect Lancelot (“Capability”) Brown. Among his works in London were Brooks’s Club (1778). In 1783 the prince of Wales (the future George IV) joined the club and subsequently hired Holland to remodel Carlton House (from 1783 demolished 1826), the prince’s town residence. The prince encouraged Holland’s interest in French architecture and decoration, and Holland began to use French craftsmen on his projects. Work for the prince led to further aristocratic commissions for Holland.

At Brighton, Sussex, Holland built the Marine Pavilion (1787), an addition to an existing villa owned by the prince, connecting the two sections with a rotunda having a low dome and two wings of two stories each. This building, later called the Royal Pavilion, was rendered unrecognizable by William Porden’s addition (1808) and John Nash’s remodeling (c. 1822), both in what was a style derived from Islamic architecture in India.

Another of Holland’s relatively few projects was the remodeling of the Theatre Royal, also known as the Drury Lane Theatre (1794 burned 1809), commissioned by the dramatist and impresario Richard Brinsley Sheridan.


Irish Funeral Prayer by Henry Scott Holland, May 1910

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Everything remains as it was.
The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone.
Laugh as we always laughed, at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort.
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again.


We begin with a friendship. “Jesus”, we read, “loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus”. Mary is the one who broke all social convention and annointed Jesus’s feet with perfume and wiped them with her hair. He is clearly close to her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus too. We begin with a friendship.

Gallilee is safe territory for Jesus, but down south in Judea it is dangerous. “Rabbi, they were just now trying to stone you and you are going there again?” say his disciples. But when there is a friend involved we take risks. We can all, each one of us, think of friends who have made sacrifices, perhaps even taken risks, to help us. We can be inspired to take such risks, to make such sacrifices, for our friends in turn.

Friendship is a very important theme in John’s Gospel. Apart from Jesus, the key figure in the Gospel is the always unnamed, described simply as “the one whom Jesus loved”. It is as if we are watching a film through the eyes of one of the characters. You know those films where the camera is positioned so that we never see one of the actors but always see things through her or his eyes. In John’s Gospel we see things through the eyes of “the one whom Jesus loved”, because that is how John wants us to see the world. We are the ones whom Jesus loved. As Jesus says later in chapter 15, “You are my friends. I do not call you servants … but I have called you friends”.

Cardinal Basil Hume said “Holiness involves friendship with God - there comes a time in our walk with God when we need to move from being Sunday acquaintances to being weekday friends.” I think the author of St John’s Gospel would very much have agreed - friendship is a very important theme in John’s Gospel.

What we see in the rest of this passage about Lazarus is something of what friendship with God means.

We have the one bible verse that I am sure you can all commit to memory, it being the very shortest verse in the whole bible: John 11:35 “Jesus wept”. Or as other translations put it “Jesus began to weep”.

Jesus has already extolled to Martha all the spiritual messages possible about the hope of resurrection. All the good stuff that you would expect me as a vicar to preach at a funeral. Yet when confronted with the reality of a friend’s death, Jesus can’t hold the tears back. “Jesus began to weep”. Every vicar will have had the same experience. We do maybe ten, twenty or forty funerals a year. We say all the right things, all the spiritual messages about the hope of the resurrection. We are very professional. We keep it all in. And then we do a funeral - perhaps a child’s funeral, perhaps a friend’s funeral and we are confronted with the reality of death and we cannot hold it back and we begin to weep.

There is a poem that I would like to tear out of anthologies. I have to tread carefully here, because it is a poem that I know is dear to many people. It is a poem written by Henry Scott Holland, a canon of St Paul’s cathedral and then Regius professor of Divinity. Who am I as a mere newbie vicar of St Peter’s to argue with a canon of St Paul’ cathedral? Who am I to argue with a regius professor of Divinity? Indeed there is much in that poem that I agree can be of great comfort. But there is just one line which for me ruins an otherwise lovely poem. “Death is nothing at all” it claims.

It is only one brief line. But it is a lie. When families ask me if they can have this poem at their loved one’s funeral, if I am brave enough, I ask them to consider leaving that one line out. Start not at “Death is nothing at all” but at the next line.

I never forget the first funeral I took of a friend, because death is not nothing at all. There funerals you will not forget, funerals of someone you loved and who mattered a lot to you.

Death is NOT nothing at all. It is not just something we can shrug off (1). Even for Jesus himself, when confronted by the death of his friend - it hurts. “Jesus began to weep”. What does it mean for Jesus, the one who is both human and God, to be faced with death? Does he weep for us, for our grief, for our loss? Does he weep because even while his divine side knows all is fine, his human side fears death is the end? We don’t know. The German theologian Jurgen Moltman says “God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him”. Perhaps he is right. We don’t know. What we do know, is that confronted with the death of a friend, Jesus weeps.


“Death is Nothing at All” by Canon Henry Scott-Holland

If life is just a game that we play, then death is one of the greatest game-changers there is. Like all the great milestones in life, from getting married to having children, death is a change that is facilitated through exchanging one lifestyle for another. It’s a give and take that leaves us with something new after we let go of a dear part of our past. But Henry Scott-Holland’s “Death is Nothing at All” challenges this notion by voicing all of the thoughts and feelings that won’t change after a death has occurred.

Like all the great milestones in life, from getting married to having children, death is a change that is facilitated through exchanging one lifestyle for another.

As a Canon (or priest) at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Scott-Holland has imbued this work with glimpses of heaven and the afterlife as a form of comfort for keeping the deceased closer to the hearts of the living. As he writes, “I have only slipped away into the next room/I am I and you are you/Whatever we were to each other/That we are still” (2-5), he diminishes the space between someone who has died and those that are mourning. However close you are to a beloved person, they are still a separate entity from you. And death doesn’t change that. Love remains after death, although it can change and warp in different ways as it waxes and wanes throughout the years. But even in death, our loved ones remain close by “in the next room” as they find a new place in the afterlife or perhaps another state of non-being.

The poem continues with, “Let my name be ever the household word that it always was/Let it be spoken without effort” (13-14), which openly speaks to many of our wishes to be remembered but not mourned. As life is speckled with thoughts of laughter, jokes, smiles and joy, so too are these thoughts littered throughout the poem. These are the good times that make up family and friendships. This is what brings us close to those we can no longer be with in life, although they are not lost to us in our thoughts.

As life is speckled with thoughts of laughter, jokes, smiles and joy, so too are these thoughts littered throughout the poem.

This brings us to the question: “Why should I be out of mind/Because I am out of sight?” (19-20), which highlights a fear that is seen in many as they worry about losing the memory of someone that they cherished. But if love was real, then it will always stay with you and change your own way of living. Although the opportunity to make new memories with someone who has passed is gone, you can still make a new life and build separate memories based on what you learned from them in the past.


Watch the video: Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott-Holland (January 2022).