24 August 2019

Pedantries

I don't know if you you feel this ... a stirring of irritation when somebody uses words in a just slightly "incorrect" way ... incorrect, that is, to my rather narrow little mind.

One of my examples is hearing people referring to a priest "putting on his robes".

For me, there is a world of difference between 'robes' and 'vestments'. 'ROBES' signify a laudable status which someone by laudable exertions has laudably achieved. Examples: Judges; Mayors; Doctors of Philosophy ...

This last example is a comparatively new introduction in this University. In the Old Days, when lovely clean-cut American youths came here to further their academic careers, they were told to read for one of the tried-and-tested Honour Schools. This they did. But problems arose. When the little fellows went back 'state-side', people asked them what they had achieved. "Bachelor of Arts", they proudly replied. "But you already had that from X University over here before you went across to England" was the wondering reply.

So Oxford introduced the 'Doctor of Philosophy' degree. Soon, not only Americans but everybody who had academic ambitions was taking it. When we were undergraduates in the early 1960s, the younger lecturers and Fellows tended to have one; older dons jealously, zealously, guarded the title "Mr Smith' and spluttered angrily when the well-meaning mistakenly addressed them as "Dr Smith".

To such dinosaurs, the only doctorates that meant anything were the rare old medieval doctorates in Divinity, Law, Medicine, Music, Letters, and more latterly Science.

The gown of the Doctor of Philosophy is a vulgar red and blue without proper sleeves. Nothing like the stately medieval gowns. If you will forgive a Bergoglian expression, they look like overgrown butterflies. For all I know, the gown may be based on transpontine archetypes (what are New England Butterflies like?)
 
Doctoral garb distinguishes the achievement of, er, achievers.

'VESTMENTS', on the other hand, negate the individuality and achievements of the wearer. He wears them to indicate that he is nothing; that he is acting solely in the name of Another. He is a man who was not honoured but humiliated, when, at his Ordination, he lay prostrate on the ground. He now acts clothed in the Priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Far from gaining or achieving anything, he has lost individuality. 'Initiative' is, quite simply, not his job. Nor is 'personality'.

He is a man whose hands and voice are not his own because his sacramental words and deeds are those of the Redeemer.

When you see him emerging, chasubled, from the Sacristy, you should say to yourself "Ah ... jolly good ... another of these Nobodies ..."

11 comments:

Pelerin said...

I do so agree. It really annoys me when I see the secular press referring to Priest's robes instead of vestments. And because of this I have heard Catholic friends also referring to the Priest's robes. If this makes me a pedant so be it.

scotchlil said...

you are, as a dear friend of mine used to observe, 'precise, but NOT pedantic', Father!

william arthurs said...

But the Oxford DPhil robe is the same as the other doctoral robes, just with blue sleeves. The equivalence between all these doctorates indicated in this way, is what I think you are taking exception to, Fr H. Maybe the other place has it right (its PhD gown is just a black MA gown with red facings -- and has no resemblance to the academic dress of Cambridge's higher doctorates)?

A few years ago I read Abraham Flexner's 1930 book Universities. Flexner offers a lengthy, sarcastic discussion of American PhD thesis topics (listing numerous examples of fatuous research on points of academic trivia). English universities simply followed that lead at a respectful distance of a few decades.

Scribe said...

One of my pet hatreds is the use of 'Reverend' as a noun. 'Good morning, Reverend,' etc. Even worse, is 'The Reverend Jones'. It's like calling a knight 'Sir Smith'. An import, of course, from America. People are losing the ability to describe ranks correctly in this country now. You will see 'Lord John Jones' when the writer means 'Lord (John) Jones.' Recently, Nigel Farage referred to the late Queen Mother as 'Her Royal Highness'. I once heard Jeremy Paxman address the Duchess of Cornwall as 'You Highness'. And another thing.... You can tell I'm an old man, can't you?

David Chislett said...

What a beautiful piece, Father!

tubbs said...

And the cope? I would presume it is a robe then. I have seen many prints and paintings of pre-19th century CofE clergy wearing copes.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

But on the continent, at least in the Imperial pre-reformation universities, the MA/AM testamur described the master of arts as a "doctor of philosophy". E.g., Martin Luther's MA.

Nevertheless, point taken. It would perhaps be a good idea if the modern PhD were to be scrapped.

AvB.

tommymc said...

Astonishingly well put, thanks FR Hunwick

PM said...

Jeremy Catto, the Oriel historian, was perhaps the last of a kind. He had taken a DPhil but insisted on appearing in the lecture lists as 'Mr J I Catto'. I couldn't travel to Oxford for it, but I understand that he had a rather splendid sung Requiem Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Oxford Oratory.

Marc said...

Surely the Duchess of Cornwall is properly styled 'Royal Highness'?

Scribe said...

Dear Marc, That was the point. Paxman referred to her as 'Your Highness', missing out the 'Royal'as I reported in my comment.