In 1965, a pathetically pompous English periodical informed its readers that "No Old Etonians or Harrovians figure in the [English Hierarchy which] is of uncompromisingly middle-class origins, and not by any means always from the upper middle-class. For example, the late Cardinal Hinsley was the son of a village carpenter ... Catholic priests were once described by an Anglican as 'a rather rough and tricky lot, notoriously deficient in taste and manners ... '"
(You'd have thought that the phrase 'son of a carpenter' might have suggested a train of thought to even the drippiest journalist.)
This libel upon the English Catholic Clergy is an exquisitely venerable Anglican trope. When Ronald Knox was weighing up the pros and cons of entering into full communion, his list included "Your fellow priests won't be married: but they'll be much more vulgar." (The list concludes Vade retro Satana.)
But in S John Henry Newman's semi-autobiographical 1848 novel Loss and Gain, an Anglican friend who is trying to dissuade the hero from poping, observes "An English clergyman is a gentleman; you may have more to bear than you reckon for, when you find yourself with men of rude minds and vulgar manners."
Well, tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. Not that I believe it was ever true. Were Dr Oliver and Canon Tierney and Dr Lingard really rudes? Mgr Gilby? But, be that as it may, the idea that an Anglican clergyman is likely to be a 'gentleman' is now the wildest, scifi, fantasy. Partly due to the financial collapse of the Church of England, the bulk of its clergy is now educated on a much tighter budget ... and it shows. The alumnae of the East Wessex Ministerial Training Course rarely demonstrate much evidence of that Fifth Essence which permeates those who have spent the few and fugitive years of their youth couching in the dewy mists which lie between the Isis and the Cherwell.
In the Arouca Press collection of Vatican II limericks, you will find Dr Wall, Bishop of Brentwood, commenting on these classist comments: Amid Fleet Street's bottles and jugs/ we Bishops are less than the bugs/ that climb up the seat on/ the scholar at Eton/ we're just lower middle-class thugs. Which he himself Latinised as Ubi potant ephemeridum scriptores,/ nos Episcopi aestimamur minores/ cimicibus obrepentibus/ Etoniensi et mordentibus:/ plebeii et infimi grassatores.
I like to imagine a paper dart on which these verses were scribbled sailing across the Conciliar aula and reaching Bishop Gordon Wheeler, later of Leeds, who, incidentally, in his Anglican days, was a predecessor of mine at Lancing. He buzzed back to Bishop Wall Hierarchical stratification/ is a hazard of human creation;/ But we middle-class thugs/ (e'en though less than the bugs)/ are the heart of the new dispensation. Unabashed, Wall put that into Latin and sent it back to Wheeler as Hierarchica saepe ordinatio/ in humanis fit aleae ratio;/ at nos plebeios grassatores/ etsi cimicibus minores,/ novi foederis cor signat dispensatio.
Happy days. I wonder if limericks ... or anything else ... get passed around under the table while Vin is chairing the CBCEW.
Bishop later Cardinal Wright put a poor box on his desk in the aula hoping to raise money for the Maguire Home here in Pittsburgh, seeking donations from his episcopal colleagues. Curious or amused, several Council Fathers put their small change in the box. Those cosmopolitan coins were passed along to the local Knights of Columbus, as they were and are still charged with fundraising for the disabled children of the Maguire Home. The coins were framed somehow and became the Capi Capone Award, given to Councils each year to hold for a year, ever since, for fundraising goals met. All in all, the limericks stand the test of time better. Though to think Cardinals Ottaviani or Bacci may have held those coins makes me smile.
Knox's premonitory pause nudged a memory. When yet Anglo-Papalists (and not yet Papists proper) some of us we were wont to say of the two tribes: "The Anglicans have the better halves, but the Romans have the better quarters." Whilst the first half of that adage was not infrequently true, the universal reliability of the latter was not to be trusted. A (celibate) Anglican mentor of mine had been to a semi-monastic theological college and whenever one particular old Father of that community heard that one of its clerical alumnae had married he would drawl: "I'm afraid X has gorn orf the rails..."
I wonder whether Mgr. Knox's use of the phrase "Vade retro Satana" (from the St. Benedict's Medal) is an indication that he wrote that list while staying with the Benedictines of Farnborough, where he placed up-and-down the avenue of Lime trees with Dom Cabrol, as he considered entering into full communion.
Forgive the (Freudian?) plural above: although theological colleges now have plenty alumnae, in the period of my anecdote there were only alumni of such establishments.
The present bench of RC bishops of England, including the retired, does contain 2 or 3 very good classicists.
I can imagine a learned prelate on the south coast producing some very humorous limericks.
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