Recusant Reviews: BBC Question Time

One of the pleasures of watching Question Time is the consolatory confirmation that anyone who got into Oxford, met all the right people, got on in public life and ended up on the telly was almost certainly an apple-for-teacher creep at school.

You ask how this is confirmed? Simply by observing how mustard keen they are to be picked first for every question. Of course, the statesmanlike veneer reasserts itself pretty quickly, but keep your eyes peeled as Dimbleby barks out the first name. The Hermione Grainger smirk is always there. ‘Expecto Patronum!’, the lucky schoolboy all but ejaculates.

This week, however, wide-eyed panic flashed across the faces of the first-called.

Connoiseurs of the show will recognise this as the once-a-series ‘what if I think the same as Peter Hitchens??’ conundrum. Visibly relieved to be following the Mail columnist’s unremarkable opening salvo on trial by jury, The Reverend Giles Fraser blurted out: ‘I couldn’t disagree with you more Peter! (his zeal was something we have not been accustomed to in the established clergy). A brief silence followed as if anything else was an afterthought.

To be fair to Hitchens, pub bore of the year as he may be, he played a blinder last night and seemed to be toying with the more than usually left-leaning panel (Michael Heseltine was the other purported right winger, joined by Diane Abbot, Vince Cable and the groovy vicar Fraser). With Hitchens at one moment calling for some jurors to be rejected for lack of education, the next denouncing Thatcher’s right to buy and quoting Martin Luther King in support of racial harmony, the rest of the class seemed utterly bewildered by his omnivorous opinions; they resorted to mauling the few little Englanders who emerged from the audience.

A marked tendency amongst audience joiner-inners in recent years became almost a competition in this latest episode, and a highly entertaining one at that. I am speaking of the new fashion by which they announce their link with officialdom before making their contribution. ‘I am a serving police officer’ bellowed one, in a voice that made you sure she was just that;  I am a caseworker’ (a what now?) offered another. ‘I was an Olympic Gamesmaker’, said a scout-master type, before commencing an ode to multiculturalism. 

Heseltine, a man your correspondent assures you he has great sympathy for, seemed confused, even to the point of directly contradicting himself in one answer. Towards the end when his phone rang, cutting short a slightly rambling speech, it seemed a kindly act of the gods. One wonders – harsh as it may sound – if the Papal way out might not recommend itself to this worthy veteran.

And then the evening gradually wore down to the proforma austerity debate, which does so much to keep us from important topics like horse meat and benefit scroungers nowadays. Injury time was being played out and Hitchens had sight of an improbable victory. Not all were ready to lie down though. When one panelist dutifully – listlessly, even – remarked that the coffers were empty and there would need to be cuts, Abbot roused herself for one last hurrah. “Tell it”, she declaimed, her open hand raised in a Ciceronian attitude, “to the people of Lewisham!” The caseworkers seemed to like it.


Where have all the polymaths gone?

This week it will be Nicolas Copernicus’s 600th birthday. Copernicus belongs to the club of superswots nicolas-copernicusknown as polymaths which, like many membership organizations nowadays, is struggling.

The original polymath was Eratosthenes: pentathlete, librarian of Alexandria, philosopher and founder of Geography (amongst other accomplishments). He had, as our picture shows, an absolutely enormous brain. He was220px-Portrait_of_Eratosthenes a contemporary of another polymath, Archimedes.

In the first millennium AD, the best all-rounders tended to come from the Arab world. We often hear that it was Muslim scholars who kept much of Greece’s accomplishments alive until the Scholastics rediscovered them; to a great extent this was thanks to Al-Kindi, who, though perhaps not much of an innovator, absorbed and re-presented an absolutely vast amount of information, effectively founded The House of Wisdom in Baghdad, and popularized the Indian system of numbering which is now used by everyone [which in time led to the widespread misunderstanding that they are Arabic numerals].

Maqamat_haririAl-Kindi’s contemporaries at the House of Wisdom, the barnstorming Buna Musa brothers, Ahmad, Muhammad and Hasan, translated classical works from Greek, Latin and Chinese, took great strides in Geometry and produced the Book of Ingenious Devices, essentially a bunch of designs for really cool toys. Their father had been a highwayman who became a court astronomer, which was fine during the Islamic Golden Age.

With the beginning of the second millennium, the archipelago of Great Minds (or at least the ones we know about) arcs gracefully north-west, via Maimonides and Averroes, to revered churchmen (and at least one churchwoman) in Northern Europe: Albert the Great, Hildegard, Roger Bacon and then the brainy Pole Copernicus.

So what happened to the polymaths? I suppose the obvious answer is that with academic disciplines becoming a lot more advanced than they once were, you would go mad if you tried to excel in more than one field. There are fewer things left to discover; the game has changed.

Another might be that truly great minds can only flourish in truly great eras, and we don’t live in one of those. Depressing but there it is. The golden age of Islam ended centuries before Islamic culture actually realised it was going backward. Al-Kindi’s omnivorous reading was possible thanks to the enlightened Mutazillite philosophy which dominated in the early years. After its defeat by the anti-intellectual Asharites, the greatest Islamic learning was pushed to the fringes of the Empire and was to be found in Andalusia, and then, eventually, nowhere at all.

Ratzinger the Radical – Kueng the Conformist

ratzAt about 2pm on the day the Pope made his announcement, I switched on BBC news and was delighted to witness the following:

ANCHORMAN: And we can now go over live to Munich, Benedict’s hometown (sic) where our correspondent has been assessing the Pope’s legacy.

CORRESPONDENT: Thanks Jim. The theologian Hans Ku…

ANCHORMAN: We seem to be having some technical difficulties here… we’ll try and get back to Munich as soon as we can. Now with all the business news…

Divine intervention? Who knows, but sadly it was merely a stay of execution.

The Kuengian criticism of Benedict is this: that Ratzinger, the sometime enfant terrible, was  scared by the fallout from Humanae Vitae. That he was horrified by the upheavals of 1968. That this experience turned a radical young priest into a reactionary “panzerkardinal” and a bitter, misanthropic Pope. It is, if not the most widespread, certainly the most annoying of all the shallow punditry of the past week.

Most annoying because the opposite is true. Most annoying because not Ratzinger but Kueng, and many like him are the ones who couldn’t read the signs of the times in 1968.

Most annoying because if we are asked ‘what is the legacy?’ and we allow ourselves to be drawn into this Blairite silliness of a question, the best answer we can give is to say: “this man is a  radical thinker in the very best sense; he is a radical, and this radicalism has been played out in front of you though you can’t see it, and the reason you can’t see it is because you imagine yourselves to be radicals when in fact you are conformists.”

The problem surely is that Kueng et al embraced ‘radicalism’ for its own sake. They lived in a ‘radical’ decade and they wanted to fit in, and therefore jumped on every hippie charabanc that would take them. Theirs was a false radicalism because ‘radical’, literally, means ‘to do with the roots’, the radix . But they had, and have, little interest in roots.

Benedict’s radicalism is true radicalism. By insisting that we recover our ‘patrimony’, as he did in his pontificate-defining address to the Curia in 2005, he calls us to a much stronger, more sensible starting point for a dialogue with modernity. Stronger because it strips away the stridency and the triumphal shell which built around the Church during the age of Christendom, and exposes the teaching of Jesus in all its simplicity and purity.

In particular, it is his teaching on relations between the Church and the modern state, enunciated with such clarity and reasonableness in Westminster Hall in 2010 and the Bundestag in 2011 (and indeed before his election in his famous debate with Juergen Habermas),  which I believe we will remember him by. It is the fruit of a radical, imaginative way of thinking and it gives us a basis for a dialogue we need urgently to pursue. Perhaps we will talk in the future, if you will excuse the pun, about Benedict’s Theology of the Body Politic as reverently as we talk today about John Paul’s Theology of the Body.

The Holy Kiss

Yesterday, the Pope announced that an ‘investigation’ is underway into ‘the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar.’

This ‘investigation’ had been asked for by the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Ratzinger had made the same suggestion a dozen or so years earlier in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, basing his suggestion, as he does in Sacramentum Caritatis, on the Lord’s command : ‘leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’ (Matt 5:24)

In the eastern rites,  the Kiss of Peace is generally exchanged slightly later than the Pope has suggested, after the bread and wine have been brought to the altar but before the canon has begun.

In the early Church, the ‘Holy Kiss’ existed not just as part of the liturgy but as something which permeated the Christian life. For example, the contemporary account of the martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicity recalls that they and their companions, at the last moment possible, embraced each other with a kiss ‘that they might accomplish their martyrdom with the rites of peace.’

Thus it was important to them not so much as an expression of reconciliation between each other, but more as an expression of the peace of Jesus Christ, ‘a peace the World cannot give’ (Jn 14:27).  But what does it mean to have a peace the world cannot give? For the Early Church, the Peace of Jesus Christ is expressed in the loving unity of the christian community. Thus St Augustine says:  ‘Peace He leaves with us, that here also we may love one another: His own peace He gives us, where we shall be beyond the possibility of dissension.’

This is not an early example of what is referred to as ‘horizontalism’ or ‘man-centred liturgy’ – for they carried ‘this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 cor 4:7) It is this ‘transcendent power’, above anything else, which bewildered and infuriated their persecutors. Hence Tertullian says: ‘But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. “See”, they say, “how they love one another”, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred; “see how they are ready even to die for one another”, for they themselves will sooner put to death.’

The first specifically liturgical reference to the Kiss of Peace is from the Apology of St Justin Martyr halfway through the second century. After the liturgy of the word ‘we salute one another with a kiss, whereupon there is brought to the president bread and a cup of wine’. Significantly, Josef Jungmann explains that the kiss does not precede the Liturgy of the Eucharist so much as it concludes the Liturgy of the Word. The two were, perhaps, seperate celebrations originally, and it may have been the joining together of the two liturgies which led to the practice of delaying the Kiss of Peace until after the anaphora.

This makes  sense: whereas originally the community would ratify the intercessions which closed the Liturgy of the Word (our modern day Prayers of the Faithful) by exchanging the Kiss, sign of the fraternal communion which binds them together as the body of Christ,  now their kiss expressed not only their unity in these intercessions but also their unity in the greatest prayer of the Christian Church, the prayer, in fact, through which this unity was built.

The Unlikeliest Plug of All

The RCC is rightly proud of how far it’s come since its inception last summer, having attracted over 12,000 unique visitors and numerous recommendations from ‘blogs’ and websites across the spectrum of the Anglophone Catholic World. Our esteemed captain, Mr EF Condon V, has even been interviewed by no less an organ than the Catholic Herald of London.

None of this, however, could really prepare us for the surprise of being ‘namechecked’ by none other than that great enemy of just about all things Recusant (or otherwise halfway decent), the Champagne Socialists Daily Intelligencer (incorporating the Bleeding Heart Liberal’s Gazette and the Daily Trot), Otherwise known as the Manchester Guardian.

The occasion for this appearance, in Mr Hugh Muir’s diary column of December 22 last, is the republication of His Eminence the Archbishop of Sydney’s recent comments on the competition between the English and Australian Cricket teams, and the moderate, conciliatory reply offerred by our own Skipper in his Herald interview. Reflecting on the regrettable outcome of the tournament, Mr Muir observed:

Now that the battle is lost we turn to theologians to bring love where there is hatred, peace where there is discord. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney tells the Australian Sunday Telegraph that “you should never kick a man when he is down”, although with the England team one must consider – metaphorically – whether “he looks like getting back up”. Prior to the final test the cardinal, who favours a muscular form of theology, also warned against giving “a mug a break”. In the Catholic Herald, Eddie Condon, captain of the London-based Recusant Cricket Club – which fuses Catholicism with cricket – responds in kind, claiming Australia has the “raging inferiority complex of a country which is still, in theory, a colony”. By comparison the test cricketers were positively graceful.

Until we appear in the Supporters Magazine of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, I’m claiming that as the most satisfyingly unlikely mention ever.

Anglo-Catholic Renewal Movements

As we gear up for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Our friends at this website are so excited they’ve put up a timer to count the minutes!*) I’m sure all members and friends of the RCC will be delighted to learn about a couple of really exciting ‘New Movements’ which are enlivening the Anglican Tradition!

The Most Holy, Autocephalous and Autocratic Celtic Orthodox Church of Rockall has a really exciting liturgy schedule, (including Ambrosian Rite Mass in Cornish, celebrated in the breathtaking Chapel of St Greta of Balham) and an impressive array of guest preachers, including the Archdeacon of Fitzrovia and The Revd Sir Les Patterson.

If you prefer a more Anglo-Papalist lilt to your churchmanship, why not take the quiz over at Frankly Unfriendly Catholics, the object of which is to assess complex pastoral situations in a compassionate, forward-thinking way.

Not a fan of smells, bells and Dr Pusey? Pay a visit to the Classical High Anglicans at Affirming Laudianism, official fanclub of St Charles I (King and Martyr)’s fave Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud.

*No, of course they haven’t really

Photographs of the Pope’s historic meeting with the Archdruid of Bangor courtesy of, which is not a website I’d recommend visiting.

A watering Hole for the 21st Century Recusant

Anybody who regularly visits Westminster Cathedral will surely be familiar with that magnificent boozer, the Cardinal of Francis Street.

I love The Cardinal. If it is possible for a pub defiantly to shake its fist at the disintegration of our culture, The Cardinal does a pretty good job. I think that my first visit there was when I was 17, and I have been a regular ever since, and never tire of introducing newcomers to the delights of supping a pint of excellent ale under an enormous portrait of, say, Newman (or even Wolsey, if the mood takes you), and where you are never unlikely to meet all sorts of interesting movers, shakers and legendary characters of the English Catholic Church.

The pub was built in the 1840s, and was originally called the Windsor Castle. It was reopened as the Cardinal in 1963 by, perhaps slightly ironically, the then secretary to Cardinal Godfrey, Derek Worlock, (may he rest in peace) a man who never did understand why he didn’t get to be a cardinal himself.

It’s greatness is secured primarily by the independent brewery which owns it and a number of other pubs in Central London, Samuel Smith of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire. Unlike the brewery founded by Samuel’s brother John, the trustees of Sameul Smith’s are not really interested in such sordid matters as turning a profit or getting bought out by a PubCo. They seem genuinely committed to just running old fashioned English pubs for civilised people to go and have a drink in. Don’t ask for a WKD Blue in the Cardinal; they’d just stare at you blankly. It’s not even a very smart move to order a soft drink – their cola is own brand, and atrocious.

And the beer is very good. Their ale is produced by the very traditional ‘Yorkshire square’ method. Their lager (not that I drink it very often) knocks ten bells out of most other domestic brews. Their stout has a delicious nutty finish which you just don’t get with Guinness. They even brew their own wheat beer, which tastes just as nice as Hoegaarden but costs about half and comes in a much sillier glass. For the adventurous drinker, the 9% Imperial Stout suggests itself, originally brewed for the War Department for export to our brave boys in the Crimea.

The Samuel Smith’s brewery also maintains that it will not raise its prices above what is naturally indicated by increases in duty and inflation. As such, they remain eminently reasonable and are an indictment of the extortionate prices charged by just about every other pub in central London.

Even better, their low prices don’t bring with them the oppresive advertisements and ‘price comparison’ charts of the Wetherspoon and Goose variety. In fact, a couple of years ago the brewery noticed the emerging trend for pubs to become parts of ‘chains’ with aggresively  branding, and responded by removing what little branded signage there was on the outside of most of their boozers.

They sell quite nice chips, too.