Review - Basil Hume: Ten Years On

No one can completely know another person.  How could this be possible since there are times and circumstances in which we hardly know ourselves? If this is true on a personal level, how much more difficult it is to understand the lives of those in public life, whether in political, social or religious life. The writing of a biography, or the collection of recollections by interested people, is like the making of a mosaic, or the weaving of a tapestry. Each one has only apart of the bigger picture. The task of the author is to create the deeper picture of who and what the subject meant to individuals and to the public at large. In reading these insights we catch a glimpse of the reality of a person.

This is what William Charles has succeeded in doing in his affectionate portrait of his uncle, the late Cardinal Basil Hume.  Basil Hume: Ten Years On is a collection of essays on the private and public face of one of the best known religious leaders in England during the latter half of the 20th century. The tone is set by the photograph of the Cardinal on the front of the book. Warm. Affectionate Mysterious.  Questioning. Drawling people into a relationship with him through his natural gifts of care and compassion. Through the twin example of his humanity and spirituality bring them to a deeper understanding of God.

The chapters give an insight into the Cardinal’s early life as a pupil and laer as a monk at Ampleforth. His monastic contemporaries give the reader insight into Benedictine formation  which became the foundation and hallmark of his spirituality and outlook on life His exercise of authority as Abbot during the changes   brought about by the Second Vatican Council are well documented. They prepared him for his ultimate task, that of Archbishop of Westminster. His final “chapter”, the address he gave to the monks the night before he left Ampleforth for Westminster give profound insights into both the public face and inner life of this extraordinary man. It contains the broad brushstrokes which coloured his whole life and ministry. His final message to the community which had formed   him communicated the truth about him and his love of God to his brethren in a language that went beyond mere words, went deeper than words.

This appreciation of the life and work of Cardinal Hume will provide a useful complement to the biography Basil Hume, The Monk Cardinal written by Anthony Howard and published in 2005. That biography was an evaluation of his public work and was woven around the major contributions he made to political and religious life. The portrait produced by William Charles and the other contributors give access to the inner landscape of this extraordinary man, his early struggles with prayer, his feelings of being overrated, the burden of ill health and his wrestling with the problem of suffering on a human and on a world scale.

“”The person who is afraid of death is afraid of life”. Wise advice from an unknown source.  Basil Hume was not afraid of death, and this book gives a moving insight into how, during his final illness, he integrated the whole of his life, faith, relationships  into a great act of thanksgiving. Often he described the final judgement as whispering into the ear of a loving father the story, the secrets, we have never been able to tell anyone – perhaps not even ourselves.

On receiving the news of the terminal nature of his cancer, Cardinal Hume went to the chapel to pray. He spoke of a curtain being raised and catching a glimpse of what lay beyond. His prayer became sweet and full of consolation. “But then the curtain went down” he said. “But I wasn’t worried, because I knew what lay beyond.” He completed his journey into the light of the faith by which he had lived. William Charles and his contributors have shared beautiful milestones which they observed in the life of Cardinal Hume. In doing so, they have undoubtedly helped others on their journey too.

Basil Hume: Ten Years On    Edited by William Charles Donington.  Published by Burns & Oates - Contuum

Many thanks to Bishop Stack for allowing us to reprint this review, which was first published in this month's Oremus magazine.

Share this story