THE DEATH of Dom Edmund Jones has brought about a vacuum in the religious life of our country which will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill. The least that can now be done, apart from paying tribute to a man of exceptional sanctity and sense, is to record something of his ideals and achievements for they have a particular relevance to the Church of today — a Church, as many say, which is going through a state of crisis.
The first reaction on the part of some to the danger or rumour of crisis is either to panic or to despair. Dom Edmund Jones never did either. With fact ever firmly on the ground, he nevertheless raised his eyes above the immediate horizons of day-to-day frustrations and obstacles, toward a vision based on the concept of a great man of a previous generation, the Belgian Olivetan Benedictine, Fr Constantine Bosschaert.
This was the concept of "Vila el Pax", Life and Peace. It does not sound startlingly original, but in the mind of Fr Constantine, and subsequently of Fr Edmund Jones, it came to mean that peace is possible even in the midst of a life that poses a permanent threat of discord and war. Peace, therefore, must he no mere abstract dream. It has to relate to real life here on earth, however hard, however unpromising at times, however disheartening for so many.
Without such peace there can be no true spiritual life, since the peace pursued and found by Dom Edmund was the peace of the innermost heart and soul.
So much, then, can he learned from the man who died shortly after noon on the eve of Holy Saturday. It was a moment at which Christians, every year, seem to find themselves in a sort of private limbo, still symbolically mourning the death of Our Lord but already looking forward to the joy of His being raised to that new life which His death has made possible for all helievers.
"Vita et Pax" became the inspiration for the founding, some two or three years ago, of a unique monastery at Turvey in Bedfordshire which revived in modern form the experiments made, among others, by the eleventh century Englishman, St Gilbert, under whose direction seven women formed themselves into a community at Sempringham, Lincolnshire. As the foundation grew, Gilbert added lay brothers and finally canons regular. His order, the Gilbertines, only ever had one house outside England, and was suppressed at the Reformation.
The Bridgettines were another order which, some three hundred years later, adopted the idea of men and women living in a single community though under separate roofs and under the authority of a male superior. Turvey, however, has become one of the first, if not the first. foundation to insist on total equality of status as between Its male and female members. Totally natural and much to be admired — as well as emulated widely elsewhere — has thus become the ideal of men and women religious working and Praying in common and with mutual respect. Lay communities have been growing up along similar lines and greatly encouraged by the suceessful experiment at Turvey: So much nonsense is now talked about the relationship between the sexes — with exaggerations in various directions and on one side or the other — that it is refreshing to return to a 'wholly natural and unembarrassed concept of what this relationship should he, whether in religious or ordinary, everyday life. Total equality of status, total and mutual respect for the differing but complementary qualities of each should surely be the modern Christian response to God's creation of men and women in complete sexual duality
with joint dominion over the earth. "Let us", He is recorded as saying (Genesis 1:26-27), "make mankind in our image and likeness and let them have dominion .. . Male and female he created them."
May God grant perpetual light to Dom Edmund Jones one of whose lessons, it must be fondly hoped, will become more widely known and humbly learned by our priests of today; his sermons never lasted for more than five minutes. They were thus twenty times more effective than practically every sermon to which we are normally accustomed.