Advice to Cardinals,Bishops and Priests from Edmund Burke

Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.


Edmund Burke.  Reflections on the Revolution in France.


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.

Some notes from the Archives

This is the first of an occasional series of extracts from the riches of our muniments.

“After all these prophetic and evengelical and apostolic writings which we have set forth above, on which the Catholic Church by the Grace of God is founded, we have thought this fact also ought to be published, namely, that, although the universal Catholic Church spread throughout the world is the one bridal chamber of Christ, nevertheless the Holy Roman Church has not been preferred to other Churches by reason of synodal decrees, but she has obtained the primacy by the evangelical voice of the Lord and Saviour saying “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against her.  I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”

Decretum Gelasium c.520 Pope Gelasius I

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.


The real reason for the furore over Bishop WIlliamson’s remarks was that they gave an opportunity for those who oppose the Pope’s gently steering the Barque of Peter back towards its traditional course to oppose without appearing to attack directly.  A couple of hotheads on each side have acted like hotheads, SSPX priests seeming to be closet sedevacantists, or liberal mainstream priests outing themselves as anti-papalists, but the main battle is being savagely fought with the liberals using the secular media as their mercenary (and Boy! will they end up paying if they win).

The liberal “Spirit of Vatican II” Church, the Church of all-powerful Episcopal Conferences and Synods, the Church which seems to hold Ecumenism and Environmentalism to be doctrines as important for salvation as the Real Presence, the Church of the sleek and sinuous Cardinals who saw the light in the 1960s: has realised that it is in great danger of being swept aside by a Benedictine revolution, and that if they cannot capture the young people whom John Paul II made his own, and who seem to respond as well to Benedict XVI, they are doomed.

The weapon they have chosen is to accuse the Pope of one of the great secular sins: Holocaust denial.  It shows their desperation: they have no other choice, for how could they attack the Pope’s Catholicsm.  So they have ubnleashed forces they do not own and cannot control. 

The battle is about the Catholic Church’s place in a realigned Christianity: if the SSPX becomes a part of the Church, and Catholic-Orthodox relations improve, the return to the traditional course will become ever more marked; and as orthodoxy is reestablished within the Catholic Church, those whose views are more heterodox will find themselves increasingly isolated.

So of course they are fighting; but they do not understand what they are unleashing, and what will bring them down: we do.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust down to hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam through the world seeking the ruin of souls.

The first day of spring

wisden.jpg Spring can truly be said to arrive when the Book arrives.  Spring arrived this morning.  Archivist Minor is, it must be said, hogging it somewhat, but I go to bed later than him. 

 It’s not on sale until Wednesday, so too much comment is deprecated.  But Mike Atherton’s article on Shane Warne is exactly what one would look for, as is Gillian Reynolds’ on Test Match Special.  The Outgrounds section does not cover Portugal – again! – while redeeming itself by covering cricket in Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries where cricket is needed.  The Netherlands gets a page to itself!

 There are a few pages about events in the southern hemisphere as one might expect – I have not yet checked to see whether Cardinal Pell’s comments and our Captain’s rejoinder have been included.  There is an article about the “Barmy Army” which is “well balanced”.

The first skim suggests that this Book can fittingly join its predessors on Recusant Minor’s shelves: but only after Senior has had a decent read.

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.