I don't willingly or often disagree with the erudite and witty Rector of Blackfen, but after mature consideration, an insatiable passion for philological accuracy and sensitive analysis of literary nuance compels me to break the habit of a lifetime, and to do just that. Do you remember Fr Tim's blogpost about smarmy narcissistic butterflies among the clergy? The major scholarly talking-point of the moment is: which aspect of, or episode within, the Life of the Common Butterfly is our beloved Pontiff Pope Francis encouraging us clergy to avoid? Fr Tim's theory tended to see significance in the habit of butterflies to flit capriciously from plant to plant (readers, I think, of PG Wodehouse will recall this topos, together with that about the Discarding of Soiled Gloves, as being frequently in the mind of that acute narrator, Bertie Wooster). Despite Father's deft deployment of his arguments in favour of this theory, my own inclination is to see the significant factor as being the dramatic and colourful display which the butterfly so willingly, so wantonly, puts on. I would adduce, in my support, the condemnation of Narcissism, nearby in the text, which, as readers of Ovid (come to think of it, readers of Wodehouse are almost certain to be readers also of Publius Ovidius Naso) will remind us, involves a lengthy and passionate contemplation of ones own excellences as reflected by a reflecting medium.
So, I suggest, the picture in the mind of the Sovereign Pontiff is of clergy preoccupied with how their appearance will dazzle and impress their viewers; clergy busily gazing at themselves in the Sacristy mirror ("Will this chasuble send them into ecstasies ... no; let's go for the cloth of gold ... no, it will clash with the gray hairs in my beard ... or the Art Deco one by Clive Bell ... no no no go away I know we're going to be late starting Mass but this is important ... perhaps the Comper one with the naked putti clutching at scroll-work ... "); clergy parading forth to swivel and swirl and flaunt and flutter their vestments to best advantage in the multi-coloured light streaming through the jewel-like Harry Clarke glass.
It is an exquisite and a compelling picture. Even I, despite the Puritan austerity of my Staggers training, can sense its power. And the respect due even to the lightest utterances of a Roman Pontiff convinces me that he can't just be talking hogwash. So where has he discovered this heady phenomenon? I will advance two alternative theories: firstly, that he is talking about a neurosis which he found among a smarmy clique of Argentinian Jesuits; secondly, that he has been spending time on his computer looking at Youtube videos of bimboesque and often quite capillary females in diaphanous dresses doing 'liturgical dances'. And he has a deep pastoral concern to dissuade the clergy of the Universal Church from emulating either of those groups. And so he should.
So I will now go down to the Ashmolean to share my speculations with one of my most helpful academic mentors, and to seek His judgement.
To be continued.