28 July 2014

Is there a canonist out there?

It appears that the former Bishop David Moyer has been told that he cannot enter the presbyterate of the American Ordinariate because the local Roman Catholic territorial bishop will not give him a positive votum.

I wonder if anyone can explain how this fits in with the provisions of Anglicanorum coetibus?

27 July 2014


How endearingly Traditionalist that ISIS should impose the old Ottoman tax on Christians in Mosul!

I think this could turn out to be very helpful to community relations in this country. As everybody knows, our own Islamic community is opposed to extremism and intolerance; indeed; those who know much more than I do about Islam inform us that the actions of ISIS are anti-Islamic.

So: all that the Islamic communities in our country need to do is to have collections and to use their financial resources to supply to the Christians of Mosul the money which the latter are having to pay to ISIS in order to avoid being martyred.

This will deal a powerful blow to Islamophobic bigots in this country, and convince ordinary people that our Moslem fellow-countrymen share fully our sense of decency and fair-play.


I doubt very much whether the present Hamas armed campaign against the Zionist state complies with our Christian doctrine of the Just War. I adhere to that doctrine and to that tradition.

But, given that Hamas is not run by Christian theologians, I find it unsurprising that they attack the Zionists as they do. Hamas represent a people whose land was stolen by immigrants who continue to oppress the remnants of the Palestinian people. Where a nation has for generations been displaced and denied justice, instability is inevitable.

This background, and the difference in the numbers of those killed on the Palestinian and Zionist sides respectively, demonstrate that there is no equivalence between the wrongs done by Hamas and those done by the Zionists.

The Zionists only get away with what they do because of the guilt which is felt in Western liberal circles on account of the Holocaust; which I regard as an undeniable fact of History. There is, moreover, their unprincipled trick of contriving to imply that anyone who makes these points is anti-Semitic, a term which they pervert so that it really means anti-Zionist. But they can count me out of their cynical manipulation of guilt.

I do not feel at all guilty about what Hitler did to European Jewry when I was just a toddler and my father was serving against Hitler in the armed forces of the British Crown. And if anybody gets kicks out of calling me anti-Semitic because of what I have written above, then, in my view, they get their kicks in very perverted ways.


Again, I shall be away from emails and blog comments, helping with the Latin Mass Society Latin course in North Wales.

26 July 2014

S Anne

Dreadfully sexist, I feel, that the Novus Ordo should make the obscure S Joachim play first fiddle to his illustrious Spouse, Patron of Lesser Britain; Titular of my wife's College here in Oxford; so popular a Saint in Medieval England and iconographically associated with the cause of female literacy.

In the Library of the Dean and Chapter at Exeter is an unpublished fragment of a medieval liturgical book. It survived by being reused as scrap paper after that amusing episode which we call the 'Reformation'; it is closely associated with the great bishop John Grandisson, who dominated fourteenth century Exeter. Grandisson was a micromanaging control-freak with an immense and intense devotion to our Blessed Lady Matri Misericordiae. He codified and reformed the worship of his Cathedral; in doing this he provided carefully for the cultus of our Lady in her own chapel in the Cathedral. Every day there was to be Full Service there of the Mother of God; except that on a small number of days this was replaced by the Service of someone very closely associated with her. For example, S Gabriel ... and S Anne.

The fragment which survives at Exeter is clearly from a Mary Missal created for use in either that chapel or in the corresponding chapel in his collegiate foundation at Ottery. It gives us the Mass of S Anne. And what is interesting is that Grandisson was not content to provide it for his clergy to use; he checked and carefully corrected the text in his own handwriting. The Secret prayer shows this happening; it is a variant of a prayer we find in other medieval sources such as Sarum. This is how the scribe left it:

Sanctifica, Redemptor mundi, munera praesentis sacrificii, et beatae precibus Annae nobis eadem effice salutaria de cuius utero mater tua virgineae puritatis est egressa.

The genitive 'virgineae puritatis' appears to have nothing upon which to depend. Sarum suggests that after 'tua' there was the word 'aula' - our Lady was the 'Dwelling' of Virginal purity; 'aula' would easily slip out because of parablepsis resulting from homoeoteleuton. Grandisson spotted the omission but, I suspect, lacked an archetype from which to correct it*. So he supplied, ad sensum, the word 'flos' - flower.

This sort of thing somehow brings one very close to the dear, devout old tyrant. Incidentally, he ordered the Octave of the Assumption, which he selected for the date of his enthronement, to be kept for ever as a day of high rank. Three cheers for John 'Patrimony' Grandisson [pronounced Grahns'n].

Here is a rendering of the Collect in that Mass:

God, who didst make blessed Anna, barren so long, fruitful with a glorious and saving offspring: grant we beseech thee; that all who, for love of the Daughter venerate the Mother, may deserve, in the hour of death, to rejoice in the presence of each.


*Logically, of course, it may be that he possessed a master copy which gave a different reading from what eventually got into Sarum.

25 July 2014

Delightfully politically incorrect

S James the Great! Let us listen to the first harbinger of liturgical renewal, Dom Prosper Gueranger [I slightly abbreviate]:

"The land of S James's inheritance, Spain, had been overrun first by Roman idolaters, then by Arian barbarians, and when the day of hope seemed about to dawn, a deeper night was ushered in by the Crescent. But who is this unknown chief rallying against an immense army the little worn-out troop whose heroic valour could not yesterday save it from defeat? Swift as lightning, and bearing in one hand a white standard with a red cross, he rushes with drawn sword upon the panic-stricken foe, and dyes the feet of his charger in the blood of 70,000 slain. Hail to the chief of the holy war! Saint James! Saint James! Saint James! Forward Spain! It is the reappearance of the Galilaean fisherman, of the elder son of thunder, now free to hurl the thunderbolt upon these new Samaritans, who make Christ no more than a prophet. And when, after six centuries and a half of struggle, his standard bearers, the Catholic kings, had succeeded in driving the infidel hordes beyond the seas, the valiant leader of the Spanish armies laid aside his bright armour, and the slayer of Moors became once more a messenger of the faith ...".

I wonder what Elizabeth Tudor would have made of the fact that the old Spanish embassy chapel, S James Spanish Place, now has an Anglican as Rector.

24 July 2014

Back again

I am at home until next Sunday, when I depart for the LMS Summer School. I have done my best to get up to date with emails and blog comments.

I did delete one of the latter which seemed to suggest that if a lay person touched a chalice veil, it rendered the Mass invalid. Deeming that no reader of this blog could be so ignorant of what the Church teaches with regard to what makes a Sacrament invalid, I decided it must be a hoax.

Ha Ha. I wasn't born yesterday. Er ...

23 July 2014

Swiss Clocks as well as Swiss Guards?

Back in the Good Old Days, tourists to Switzerland came back with rather naff little wall-clocks in which there were two figures ... a male and a female figure ... which alternately emerged and retreated. I don't remember quite why, and perhaps I'm a bit confused about the details; but doubtless you will be able to correct me. Or were cuckoos somehow involved? We old gentlemen do get a bit vague.

Under this Pontificate (in aeternum floreat) something very similar repeatedly occurs. Out pops the Sovereign Pontiff with an interview or whatever here or there or wherever in which he says (exempli gratia dico) that there is a 2% chance that any Catholic priest is a paedophile. The mechanism then whirs and clicks as that figure is withdrawn and, automatically, out comes the other figure (another Jesuit, as it happens) called Fr Lombardi, who explains that The Holy Father Wasn't Really Giving An Interview and that He Didn't Really Say That; or that Perhaps He Did Say It; or that He Said Something Like It But Certainly Not So As To Include Cardinals; or that No Exact Record Was Made Of What He Did Say; or et cetera et cetera ad nauseam vel ulterius.

Does Lombardi get paid overtime? Are Swiss clocks still manufactured?

22 July 2014

Long Live the Nice Old Gentleman

I'm a poor ex-Anglican with very inadequate theological formation; nor was I a peritus at Vatican II; and I am not trained as a historian. All these shortcomings leave me rather floundering when I read what a certain clergyman, a very Nice Old Gentleman (hereinafter 'NOG'), writes in a certain 'catholic' newspaper. (I omit specificities so as to avoid falling into argumentum ad hominem in the sense in which those who have not read Locke sometimes, unfortunately, understand that phrase.)

I think it was at the beginning of June that NOG wrote about our blessed Lady's titles, and claimed "Pope Paul VI cheated, and referred to Mary as 'Mother of the Church' during one of his private documents during the Council".

The Acta Synodalia of the Council (AS III/8 909-918 vide praesertim 916) give the texts of what was done in the Council. According to this source, Paul VI, in his final allocution to Sessio III of the Council, proclaimed that Mary is the Mother of the Church. Some questions:

(1) Is what a Pope says in a formal allocution to an Ecumenical Council 'a private document'?
(2) Does NOG have evidence that these Acta are lying?
(3) Is it consonant with the respect due to a Sovereign Pontiff when speaking formally, to call him a cheat?
(4) Was NOG present during the Pope's Allocution?
(5) Since 1964 was quite a long time ago, is it possible that NOG's memory is failing him quite a lot nowadays?
(6) Is there a list of those who were Conciliar periti?

At the end of June, NOG's column spoke as if Pope S Gregory VII ... Hildebrand ... came historically before Charlemagne. Some more questions:

(7) Is it possible that NOG's memory is failing him quite a lot nowadays?
(8) Is it a good idea for a 'catholic' newspaper to give free rein each week to a NOG whose memory seems to failing him quite a lot nowadays?
(9) Would such a 'catholic' newspaper give regular space to a lefebvreist NOG who called a Pope, when speaking with the utmost formality in an Ecumenical Council, a cheat?
(10) Authority sometimes very properly admonishes the writers of blogs to be careful what they say. Does Authority take the same sort of close and laudable interest in what clerical newspaper columnists writing for a popular readership are saying?
(11) What sort of respect towards the plebs sancta Dei does it show to treat them as if they are so far beneath contempt that any sort of inaccuracy or misrepresentation can cheerfully be unloaded upon them because they are, in the writer's view, too thick and ignorant to be aware that they are being taken for a ride?

20 July 2014

A Hunwicke Test

I think it is sometimes a good idea to submit the assertions of myself, my fellow Catholics, even the non-Magisterial utterances of Popes and of those other Successors of the Apostles, the Bishops, to a simple test.
Would you say that to your ecumenical partners in dialogue, particularly to Orthodox?

An example. The Holy Father is unofficially reported to have described himself as the guarantor of Orthodoxy. This has an engagingly ancien regime flavour to it. One thinks of the Sun King saying L'etat, c'est moi; of Pio Nono saying Io sono la Tradizione. I think Louis XIV was one of Europe's great monarchs; and earlier this year I did a few enthusiastic posts upon B Pius IX and the Syllabus of Errors. I have, personally, no trouble with this sort of talk. And there is a sense in which our Holy Father's aphorism is totally bang on. The Roman Pontiffs, speaking ex cathedra, do without the tiniest doubt have the assistance of the Holy Spirit ut traditam per Apostolos revelationem seu fidei depositum sancte custodiant et fideliter exponant.

I just wonder whether what Pope Francis said, the way he said it to the seminarians of the FI, is something which he would say to an audience including Orthodox. And I wonder this because I do not think the Magisterial officers of the Church ought to impose upon humble subjects of the Catholic Church a doctrinal formula of which they would not also be prepared to say to the Orthodox "This is part of our core belief and if you are to be in unity with us, you must of course accept it". There is not a single formulation of Catholic Truth which is good-enough to be heavily dumped onto some lowly, vulnerable, and bullyable group, but which we would never be so silly and insensitive as to try to unload upon our partners in ecumenical dialogue.

And, as for the report that our beloved Holy Father also used the old Loyolan topos about the Magisterium being able to declare black to be white, I can only say that if he goes around saying that sort of thing to Anglicans such as his chum Archbishop Welby, it will have the result of reawakening in their minds a whole lot of dormant anti-Catholic prejudices. Victorian Protestant bigots believed in subtle and deceitful Jesuits who smiled their sinister smiles as victims of the Inquisition were racked until they blurted out what their torturers required them to say. Is it really the policy of this papacy to stir up all those prejudices again?

18 July 2014

Two Popes?!?

Here is a post I published on June 6. A friend has suggested to me that it was seen by some as an attack upon both the Pope and the English hierarchy. I find this suggestion incomprehensible. My post was quite the opposite: it was an assertion that Pope Francis (and each member of the English hierarchy) is in full, sole, occupation of his see. I have strengthened the arguments and now reprint it. (I declined to allow comments which said, in effect, 'Haha, yes, there is only one Pope, and it is still Benedict'. And I always suppress would-be comments which attack the English hierarchy.)

Some of the comments on the thread apply to the first version of this post.

I strongly condemn the idea being bandied around in some quarters that there are 'two popes'; that Joseph Ratzinger has not totally renounced what one such article called, illiterately, the 'munus Petrinus'. I consider this idea an error of the very gravest nature. There is only one Roman Church, the visible centre and organ of Unity within the visible Church Militant; and it has, can only have, one bishop; who enjoys to the full, and exclusively, the prerogatives defined in the decree Pastor Aeternus of Vatican I. To argue otherwise is to subvert the entire structure and constitution of the Catholic Church.

A second reason why it is wrong is that it appears to create a new sacramental order within the Catholic Church, with a 'character' indelibly and irrevocably marked upon the soul of a man who has once been Pope. There is no such order, and it is, in my view, heretical to say or to imply that there is. The sacramental orders in the Church of Christ are those of Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon. A pope is the Bishop of Rome, and a pope emeritus is a Bishop who was once Bishop of Rome and now is so no longer*. (Very properly, when the Holy Father published an Encyclical largely written by his predecessor, it went out solely in his own name.)

Joseph Ratzinger is a learned man who knows that the colour symbolic of the Papacy is red. That is why, on ceasing to be pope, he gave up all use of that red, even as concerned his footwear. The significance of this is that those who promote the outrageous thesis that he is still Pope are apparently under the impression that one can draw conclusions from the wearing of a white cassock as being the symbol of papal authority. It isn't: clergy in Africa used to wear white, and perhaps still do. I have explained this matter more than once previously in my blog. Benedict changed the colour of the crosses on the papal pallium from black to red in order to make precisely the point that red is the papal colour. And now he doesn't wear it. Because he is no longer Pope. As he has also made clear in other ways.

It may be that this absurd idea might appeal to those who, with good reason, much admired Benedict XVI; and who now, with less reason, dislike Francis. I can only say that the very worst tribute that can be paid to our beloved Papa Ratzinger and to his years of sacrificial, persecuted, ministry, is to invent a couple of new heresies in his 'honour'.
*At the time of the abdication, anticipating the possibility of just such confusions, I suggested that Pope Benedict should have a new suburbicarian See created for him. This would have given expression to his sense of still being within the Enclosure of S Peter while making clear that he is no longer Bishop of Rome. I still think this would have been sensible. Episcopus in Vaticano, or Episcopus ad Sepulturam beati Petri ...

The word emeritus ... see any Latin dictionary ... means one who no longer holds the position he previously held. Thus, there is only one Archbishop of Westminster, endowed with 100% of the powers of his See. Cardinal Cormac is not the Archbishop of Westminster; emeritus means that he was so previously but is not so now, although he is of course loved and respected both for himself and for the service he did the Church in that role. If there is an idea that a See is a corporatio in which the comparticipes are all those bishops still living who have ever in the past occupied that See, then I would like to see the authority for such a view.

15 July 2014

Off again

Sorry; I'm off again. No complaints: it's nice to be wanted, appreciated, and used: I never got so much fun in the C of E!

Again: I shall not open emails or moderate blog comments for about a fortnight.

14 July 2014

Go to Westminster

A reminder that there is a delightful little permanent exhibition in Westminster Cathedral, well worth its entrance fee.

What strikes you as you enter is a massive and gorgeous monstrance by Omar Ramsden, a characteristic product in Art Nouveau/Arts and Crafts. Go and wonder at it. It encapsulates (I give you my own biased opinion) the entire tragedy of Westminster Cathedral. When the cathedral was planned, there was not enough money to do what many desired: to make it the last great English Gothic cathedral; although, at Southwark, even Hitler has not been able completely to obliterate Pugin's splendours. Nor, apparently did they want the Romanita of the Baroque (that was managed beautifully down at Brompton). I don't know if they ever considered attempting something in the style of the Constantinian basilicas in Rome. Instead of all these possibilities, a curious red-brick Byzantinism was chosen, enabling much of the decoration to be added (or not) by future generations. But the church could have been designed wholeheartedly in the (then up-to-the-moment) style of that wonderful Art Nouveau period 1880-1910. It was possible to do such a thing; we of the Patrimony did it down by the sea, in S Bartholomew's, Brighton, even if that great church is technically unfinished (after all, it rests upon the finances of a mere parish, while Westminster Cathedral was built as the principal church of England and Wales). Ramsden's monstrance would have fitted perfectly into such a church.

The next thing to catch my eye was a superb Spanish sixteenth century cross, 'Toledo', designed to do duty both as a processional cross and as an altar cross. Late medieval in feel with dashes of the Renaissance and of the Moorish. I last saw it, so to speak, at Lancing, where we had an almost identical example ex dono Henrici Martini Gibbs, with the Assumption on the back; it is still used there on the High Altar dedicated to the Assumption.

Presiding over the whole exhibition is a terracotta bust of Mr Archdeacon Manning, dressed like a cardinal. A shame there is no matching bust of Mrs Manning, buried in her country churchyard under the shadow of the South Downs! The exhibition also has a cope of his, allegedly worn at Vatican I, with the motto Malo mori quam foedari. The caption, unless it has been corrected since I was last there [apologies if it has], translates this as "I prefer to die rather than compromise"! Possibly some chappy whose Latin is just the weeniest bit rusty thought that foedari had something to do with foedus/foederis!! Perhaps he's the same bloke who composed the slightly odd 'Latin' inscription in the floor near the Cathedral door commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI (so very inferior to the inspired elegance of the inscription commemorating the visit of S John Paul II: Ecce vestigia etc.) You'd think that in a Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, even if nobody on the staff is easy with Latin, at least one of them would know someone who was! Veterum Sapientia of Good Pope S John XXIII is still a Magisterial document!

Happily, the Archdiocese of Southwark, just across the water, takes great care to get its latinity correct and elegant. Four cheers for His Grace Archbishop Peter, who also writes such kind, courteous, and fatherly letters to those who have been pleased to do him some service!

11 July 2014

Hurriedly ...

I've just got back to my computer, and have enabled most of the comments offered.

I have capriciously decided not to allow yet another category: comments including the grammatical error "We must respect he who is the King of Tonga". We do not, in English, say "we must respect he [nominative]"; we say "We must respect him [accusative]". A curious idea seems to be growing up that whenever the relative pronoun "who" is used, it has to be preceded by a nominative. It most certainly doesn't. This is the same sort of error as using the nominative for the second of two linked names: "He spoke to Theodore and I". We do not in English say "He spoke to I"; we say "He spoke to me". So: "He spoke to Theodore and me".

I once heard a colleague refer to "Paul and I's study".

A less spectacularly horrible usage which is getting common is to make genitive only the second of two linked names. "Michael and Anne's house" is incorrect. It would imply that we were talking about two objects: (1) Michael; and (2) Anne's house. If we are talking about a house which belongs to both Michael and Anne, the correct form is "Michael's and Anne's house".

The correct thing for that colleague (who, incidentally, was a Wykehamist, heaven help us) to have said would have been: "Paul's and my study".

So there. Dixi.

10 July 2014

Thumbs and tongues

I shall get slammed for this piece of sexual stereotyping* ... but I have to express my conviction that the ceaseless use of little plastic machines held in the left hand is commoner among young women than it is among young - or older - men. It is ... have I got this right? ... called Texting, and involves the agile flickering of the thumb of the left hand in order mysteriously to communicate with distant other young women. It appears to imply an unwillingness to have communications severed, even for an hour, even for a minute, even for the blinking of an eye, by mere distance.

Long before these funny little machines were invented, I at the age of about six was aware that the little girls at my Primary School simply could not stop gossiping with each other. Except when compelled to be silent in class, they were endlessly engaged in huddling together in corners whispering their perfervid confidences to each other. Sometimes they became noisy and shouted (just as girls now sometimes talk loudly on mobile 'phones), but the intimacy of the corner, filled with murmuring and giggles, seemed preferred. Mark Studdart in That Hideous Strength felt, as a small boy, so terribly excluded by the whispered intimacies his sister Myrtle shared with the little girl next door. Is Texting simply the ultimate, the technological validation, of this urgent biological necessity among young girls?

Girls can, as I have just said, still be noisy. The previous house we occupied in Oxford was on the bus route which conveyed the trainee school-teachers of Brookes University from one campus to another (they seemed almost all to be female). Those large blue double-deckers were capsules of din as fifty or sixty young women endlessly and ferociously exchanged information. You will remember that the maidservants in Odysseus' home on Ithaca tended to be heard phthongo eperkhomenai ... . But confidences seem to be even more attractive than din. I have just had a sudden vision of the Fornicating Maidservants in the Odyssey, after being led out (end of book 22) by Telemachus to be hanged, stretching their necks forward into the nooses while their thumbs still flickered on their texting machines minuntha per, ou ti mala den.

S Ambrose was critical of girls who were accustomed circumcursare per alienas aedes ... demorari in plateis ... in publico miscere sermones .... Is the Texting Machine the Omega Point to which a girl-culture of the unbroken exchange of secrets has, through all the millennia of human history, been pointing?
*Perhaps a balancing piece would deride small boys, middle-sized boys, big boys, grown men, for the testosterone-fuelled absurdity with which, by verbal and physical assertion, they compete for Alpha Male status?

8 July 2014

Definition and Dogma

When, in 1950, Papa Pacelli defined the dogma of the Corporeal Assumption of the Mother of God, the formula with which he did so very carefully avoided saying either that she died before her Assumption, or that she did not die (expletu terrestris vitae cursu). This definition had the practical effect of eliminating from the devotional life of Catholics much of the 'apocryphal' narrative which, in both the East and the West, had surrounded the Eschaton of the Theotokos. Prayers which are found in earlier Western liturgies (e.g. festivitas ...in qua dei genetrix mortem subiit temporalem ...) became unusable; many iconographic representations became problematic; tropes, such as that of S Gregory Palamas, explaining to prepon that she had to die to be like her Son, while by no means excluded as pious opinions, became beliefs which it was impossible to describe as the Teaching of the Church. In effect, far from being a novel imposition, the doctrine proclaimed in 1950 constituted the elimination of 95% of what had previously been taught or believed. What was left was but an austere and minimalist doctrinal skeleton of the rich narrative tapestries which nourished Christians from Ireland to India before the Definition.

The root within the verb/noun definire/definitio is -fin-, meaning a boundary. To define a proposition is thus to place boundaries round it, to limit it. While, therefore, a definition may make an additional claim upon the consciences of some, upon others it is likely to have the quite opposite effect. Foliage surrounding the defined doctrinal core has, in effect, been scythed away.

In 1870, the Decree Pastor aeternus imposed an additional claim upon 'Gallicans' and 'Conciliarists': they were obliged to believe that the Roman Pontiff was infallible. But he was only described as infallible in matters of Faith and Morals. That is limiting. Neque enim Petri successoribus Sanctus Spiritus promissus est ut eo revelante novam doctrinam patefacerent, sed ut, eo assistente, traditam per Apostolos revelationem seu fidei depositum sancte custodirent et fideliter exponerent.

How does this bear upon the vexing question of the exact binding force of a canonisation?

Theologians had for centuries discussed the possession by the Roman Bishop of an infallible magisterium. But they had not conducted that discussion within the tight boundaries of the 1870 Definition. If a theologian writing BEFORE 1870 asserted that X had been infallibly taught, you cannot fairly claim that he asserted X to have been infallibly taught in THAT sense of Infallibility which was defined in 1870. He may be thinking in broader, or narrower, categories than those of Pastor aeternus.

Thus, when writers of the eighteenth or earlier centuries argue that Canonisations are infallible, they are not claiming that a canonisation concerns Faith or Morals and that it is part of the Revelation handed on by the Apostles ... for rather obvious reasons: if the Saint lived in the sixteenth century, their sanctity can clearly not be part of that immutable body of truth which was taught and believed also in the fifth and fifteenth centuries; and Saint So-and-so did not exist within the depositum which the Apostles tradiderunt.

I share the view of Benedict XIV, writing as a private doctor, that questioning a canonisation is temerarious. Nor do I deny the propriety of any use of the I-word with regard to canonisations. But it seems to me clear that a canonisation cannot claim that infallibility, that binding force, which the Decree Pastor aeternus of 1870 attributes to the Roman Pontiff when speaking ex cathedra.

I have returned to this question because the current, apparently politically motivated, frenzy for canonising recent Bishops of Rome will not, I very much fear, be sated until Paul VI has been given his gong too. And his case may be more problematic for decent faithful Catholics than that of S John XXIII or S John Paul II. I think we had better get our thinking straight before it happens, so that we know what we are going to say that it means. That means addressing the question I have touched upon here and which Ad tuendam fidem touches (i.e. with what precise degree of authority is a canonisation proposed to us); as well as the next question: what precisely, not according to opinions but in terms of the express words of the Magisterium, does a canonisation expect us to believe with regard to the one canonised?

7 July 2014


As the military situation develops in Iraq, this may not be the most tactful moment to reveal that I am, myself, the Founder of Isis*.

It happened in a modestly Anglo-Catholic Public School on the South Downs, called Lancing College. In 1973, newly appointed, I found myself with quite a number of Lower School sets, and quite a lot of Classical Literature in Translation to teach. (Such can be the fate of new members of Common Room; it was not until I was comfortably settled in that I was able to manoeuvre myself into a timetable happily confined to the teaching of Greek and Latin and Theology at A-level and Oxbridge). So, in those distant days, I founded a Society which gave members the opportunity to get off the campus and attend meetings in my house and to go on expeditions which did not exclude hostelries (nowadays, organising such society activities would be an instantly sackable offence). Quite why we chose Isis as our Patron, I cannot now remember; but we had nice ties manufactured bearing the hieroglyph of Her of the Throne. I still have one somewhere. You had better not tell the Security Services.

My little Foundation (apparently with some modifications) does seem now to have taken off in a big way in the Middle East. I always suspected it might have a future. In the first centuries of the Christian era, Isiacism was a very attractive syncretistic religion. It denied the validity of no other religion; the same Deity was behind all the divine names in all the cults. Isis was the preferred name (and her mysteria  the most satisfying); but in no exclusive way. Frankly, I have often wondered why those relativistic 'Christians' who, taking an analogously syncretistic stand, eschew 'missions' because all religion is at root the same, do not have courage of their convictions and rebrand themselves as Isiacs. It would be a particularly attractive cult for those of them who, by an unfortunate accident, have got themselves metamorphosed into donkeys with oversized membra virilia.

Moreover, if only the Right Side had been victorious at Actium, Isis would have had a great literary future. After all, Cleopatra VII, the philopateira Thea, was also the Nea Isis. Would Vergil, instead of writing that rather tortured aetiological epic about the Ira Iunonis, Venus Genetrix, Pallas puer, and Pius Aeneas, have poured all his heart and genius into an Isiad, which would have climaxed, not in the vengeful killing of Turnus paidophonos, but in the divinely glorious Nuptials and exquisite couplings of Isis Epiphanes with the Neos Bakkhos? Er ... no ... I admit that you are right. He probably wouldn't. No scope there for his libido pronior in pueros. But somebody else might have done it. Nosey, for example.

Since an excitingly Hellenistic Romano-Alexandrian Empire would have had a much more Eastwards bias than the boring old Roman Empire did, the Name of Isis would have been Great in the Orient, two thousand years earlier than today.
*To make Isis members feel at home in Oxford, we have renamed our bit of the Thames after the Goddess, and divided our other river into two parallel streams so that we can call the bit in between them Mesopotamia.

3 July 2014

Tempus Thomasinum

A curious little 'Thomas' season is starting.

On July 3, the Novus Ordo Calendar will observe S Thomas the Apostle. Bugnini moved him here so as to extricate him from the Major Advent Ferias just before Christmas. July 3 is truly, however, his date among Syrian and Malabar Christians who believe that he evangelised India. I think he is worth a votive, said for those ancient and venerable Christian communities.

July 5 is the memorial of Blessed Thomas Belson, a lay martyr executed in Oxford in the hysteria which followed the Armada (what a shame that very worthy enterprise was not successful). He and his group were arrested in the Inn called the Catherine Wheel, opposite S Mary Mag's church (and now built over by Balliol College; c'est magnifique mais ce n'est pas la gare).

July 7 is the Translation of the relics of S Thomas of Canterbury; observed in the diocese of Portsmouth. In Oxford, the little extramural church of S Thomas the Martyr, first parish church in England to experience the ritual reforms of the Oxford Movement, provided the origins of the Oxford Ordinariate Group.

Then, on July 9 (he was martyred on July 6, but the preconciliar RC calendar for the regions of England, needed to find him a date which did not coincide with the Octave Day of SS Peter and Paul) we observe S Thomas More (Common Worship, not foolishly, has reverted to July 6 for his feast).

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