- Save 1% each on Qualifying items offered by Junette2000 when you purchase 1 or more. Enter code 89LYDVVU at checkout. Here's how (restrictions apply)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
The Red Dean of Canterbury: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson Hardcover – November 16, 2011
Special offers and product promotions
About the Author
John Butler is the author of the acclaimed 'The Quest for Becket's Bones' published by Yale.
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
But he was promoted, at the age of 50, to the Deanery of Manchester by Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government in 1924. And Ramsay MacDonald again, Prime Minister for the second time, appointed Johnson as Dean of Canterbury in 1931. But the Chapter of Canterbury consisted of conservative clerics who were soon at odds with their new Dean. The objected when, soon after his appointment, he arranged a reception at the Deaney for Gandhi. Up to now, his socialism had shown itself mainly in his concern for the poor in England; now it extended to his involvement on the international stage. He visited China in 1932, and came back to campaign for famine relief and with his sympathy for communism strengthened. On his return from a visit to Spain during the Civil War, he spoke passionately from the pulpit on behalf of the Republicans.
As Dean he was ex-officio the Chairman of the Governors of the King’s School. At the time it was in a parlous state, with small numbers and a huge debt. In 1935 the Governors invited the energetic John Shirley, who, as headmaster of Worksop College, had rescued that school from a similarly dangerous situation, to become headmaster of the King’s School, making the appointment more tempting by making him at the same time a Canon of the Cathedral. Shirley would be the saviour of the school, but he was an intensely emotional, at times self-flagellating, but intemperate colleague, and was soon at odds with the rest of the Chapter and particularly with Johnson personally. Shirley felt that the increasingly pro-Soviet Dean was a threat to the reputation of the school, and he would increasingly become a thorn in Johnson’s side.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, was similarly embarrassed and would publicly distance the Church of England from anything the Dean might say, and the canons of the Cathedral would do the same in a letter to the press in 1940. Johnson refused to act on the hint given by both the Archbishop and the canons that he should resign; and there was never any way of dismissing him.
In 1937 Johnson had paid the first of many visits to the Soviet Union. His tour was organized by VOKS, the organ of the Soviet Communis Party whose task it was to invite foreigners who were likely on their return to speak well of the Soviet Union, and Johnson indeed did so in his 1939 book “The Socialist Sixth of the World”, published four months after the Nazi-Soviet Pact and a month after the Soviet invasion of Finland. In it he enthusiastically reproduced endorsed all the material he admitted he had drawn from VOKS publications and stressed how Soviet social goals were not only compatible with Christian aims, but put capitalist Christian societies to shame. (After Stalin’s death, he would put his name to a hagiographical obituary copied word for word from a Party source.) But Butler, while critical of Johnson’s total swallowing of Soviet propaganda, points out that his socialist theology “had perfectly respectable antecedents in the liberal Protestant theology of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”, not to mention its antecedents in the Biblical prophets who had railed against the exploitation of the poor by the rich.
Privately Johnson was a very nice man: a devoted husband to his first wife and, after her death in 1931, to his second wife (whom he married in 1938 and who was aged half his then 64), a loving father to his two little daughters (the eldest of whom was born when he was 66, the second when he was 68!). During the war he sent his wife and two babies to a property he had in North Wales, while he stayed in Canterbury. The Germans bombed Canterbury 35 times, devastated the precincts and in 1940 wrecked the Deanery. Johnson bore almost joyously (or so he wrote to his wife) the hardships of living in the severely damaged building which was not back in working order until the end of the war.
On VE Day Johnson was on another visit to Eastern Europe, this time having a having an interview with Stalin. But he also had an interview with President Truman on one of his visits to the United State sponsored by American-Soviet Friendship groups where he addressed huge crowds in Madison Square. (Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America reported on one of these occasions, and it is unfortunately the only passage in the book which gives some idea of what made Johnson such a brilliant and dramatic speaker.) In 1952 Johnson paid the first of many visits visited Communist China and had interviews with Mao Tse Tung and Chou En-Lai. After a later and very strenuous visit to China (he was then 82), he wrote a book “The Upsurge of China”, along the lines of “the Socialist Sixth of the World”.
He now had international status and, to Archbishop Fisher’s intense disgust, was sometimes taken to be the Archbishop himself - not least because, ever the showman, he wore the huge jewelled pectoral cross (normally worn only by Anglican bishops) which had been given to him by the Patriarch of Moscow.
He made himself available for every communist-supported cause available: for the defence in the Kravchenko trial in Paris, for the attack on the Hungarian archbishop Mindszenty, for the communist-dominated World Peace Council. (He was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1951). He addressed meetings all over the world, from Australia to Canada, and he continued to travel the communist world until he was 90.
In 1956 he reaffirmed his belief in Stalin after Khrushchev had denounced him; preached in the Cathedral against the British and French attack on the Suez Canal; and defended the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary. This latter caused more outrage than ever before from the Archbishop, the Canons, and the King’s School.
It is striking that he eventually made peace with all these opponents, and that they, too, were willing to make peace with him. In 1959 Canon Shirley wrote him a typically self-flagellating and repentant letter; on Archbishop Fisher’s retirement in 1961, the two old men exchanged the warmest expressions of their esteem for each other. Johnson finally retired as Dean in 1963, at the age of 89. With the help of his wife he began to prepare his autobiography, “Searching for the Light”, which was published posthumously: he died in 1966.
That repentant letter of Canon Shirley’s was full of self-doubt - a quality that was completely missing in Johnson, who was always inflexibly sure that he was right and who would close his mind to all the evidence of the cruelty of the Soviet Union and of Communist China and to the idea that he might have been manipulated by these regimes. In a beautifully balanced assessment at the end of the book, Butler sets all this forth, but also sets it against his personal goodness, his Christian faith, his sense of calling, his sincerity and his conviction that godless communism was doing more for social justice than was the Christian West.
The book is excessively fair to its subject. The subject in his contradictions and behaviors would be an easy one to attack on page after page. But in some ways, being excessively fair to him makes him look all the worse in the end. In spite of his blind support of stalinism which never wavered, he was competent at the mechanics of his position as Dean of Canterbury and got along with much of the community around when when his politics were not in the way.
But his dedication to Stalinism dooms his reputation. His greatest publication (the socialist sixth) has been shown to have been written by others and/or lifted from propaganda texts. His dedicated following of the Soviet line without question through the time of the alliance with Hitler and his unquestioning loyalty to it even after Krushchev's denounciation of Stalin makes him look like a total fool. But even the study of the life a fool can ultimately have some value.