21 August 2014

Aurea Aetas Clericorum

Walking last week in the Sussex countryside, we came across a memorial tablet in Bignor Church to a former Rector, Thomas Sefton. It revealed that he lived his life omnibus Iacobi optimis et Caroli annis, pace nondum laesa, and went on to describe those best years of James VI and I, and of blessed Charles Stuart, as the Golden Age of the Clergy. Not a trillion miles from the truth: King James made clear that the only problem he had with a Papacy was in any claimed power to depose monarchs; and, in the 1630s, the Bishop of Chichester, Richard Montagu (a patristic scholar and formerly Vicar of Petworth), assured the Nuncio that he was a papalist.

The old description came back to me of the Diocese of Chichester as the golden Indian Summer of the Church of England. However, I was brought back to earth the following day by looking at the service list in Chichester Cathedral and realising that most of the communion services there are presided over by a woman minister. "The vivifying principle of truth, the shadow of Peter, the grace of the Redeemer, left it". We got out only just in time, didn't we? Right at the very last possible moment, when the gubernator Petrinus had guided his barque non sine periculo so close to the sinking ship that we were able to step from one deck to the other, our suitcases in our hands, without even getting our feet wet. What a gentle, generous, holy and humble old man he is. God bless him, always.

The memorial in Bignor Church went on with its curriculum vitae: Parson Sefton was a Lancastrian, mammas dein suxit Aeneanasenses. Words of comment, worthy of this spectacular and untranslatable literary trope, entirely fail me! Two of Sefton's sons went abroad during the Great Rebellion; the third lari litans, O felix fatum, tranquillus moritur senex agricola. That last sentence could almost have been written by Q Horatius Flaccus, couldn't it? Clearly there were porci de grege Epicuri alive and well in the 1630s in the wooded dells of the Sussex Weald.


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