The adrenalin years
THIS year, the feast of the Epiphany takes on an added dimension of interest since the revelations of Dr Percy Seymour. Would his claim that an unusually bright "star in the east" was created in 7 BC by the unique alignment of Saturn and Jupiter have reached the front page of The Times 50 years ago — as it has done now?
This sounds like a trick question but it is not meant to be. For, of course, the front page of The Times contained no news at all 50 years ago. Then, as for some time afterwards, page 1 of The Thunderer — about to celebrate its second centenary — carried only classified advertisements.
What I am wondering is whether such an item would have been so newsworthy at a period when interest in religion was heavily centred on purely "church affairs," notably the appointment of dignitaries. I may, of course, be wrong.
Certainly it is true that 50 years ago, that is in the early part of .1935, Catholic England was concerned with one thing only. For it was in mourning for Cardinal Francis Bourne, who had died on January 1 of that year. He had been Archbishop of Westminster for no less than 32 years.
It was not immediately clear who his successor would be, and there were not, of course, wide consultations on such matters in those days. But a small clique was just then beginning to form, consisting of Catholics from a little known but tightly knit group drawn from intellectual and socially prominent circles.
They had little influence on the situation in 1935 and decided to bide their time. The man who, in that year, emerged as the new Archbishop of Westminster was someone who had already retired. He was already nearly 70 and by no means in the best of health.
This was Arthur Hinsley, the first ever apostolic delegate to Africa until 1934, a post which he believed would definitely be his last. But he was called out of retirement to become Archbishop of Westminster.
He turned out to be immensely popular, not least with many non-Catholics, one rather important one in particular. The year following his appointment saw the abdication crisis during which Winston Churchill was an ally of the King.
Churchill had meanwhile become friendly with Cardinal Hinsley having looked kindly on Archbishop's House, Westminster, ever since Cardinal Bourne's famous sermon calling the General 'Strike "sinful".
This had greatly pleased Churchill, Home Secretary at the time and in charge of government news and propaganda. Churchill, by the same token had been less enthusiastic about the incumbent at Lambeth Palace, in 1926, Archbishop Randall Davidson, who had wanted to broadcast an appeal which would have been more favourable to the strikers.
Churchill was even less enamoured of Davidson's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Cosmo Gordon Lang. It was he who, after the King abdicated, strongly criticised the former monarch in a sermon that became somewhat notorious. It is sometimes said that Churchill was one of the inspirers (he was certainly not the author) of a ditty that went the rounds in answer to the Archbi„nop's attack. It went as follows: "My dear Archbishop, what a scold you are!
When your man is down, how bold you are.
Of Christian charity how scant you are; Old Lang Swine, what a Cantuar."
CARDINAL HINSLEY, at all events, became, in his own quiet but effective Yorkshire fashion, something of a force in the land.
When the war came he was particularly popular with members of the forces, regardless of religious affiliation. Then, in 1942, Cosmo Lang resigned from the Archbishopric of Canterbury. By this time Churchill was Prime Minister and he took more than a merely formal interest in the question of who should be the next Primate.
The committee advising him on the matter included a man, long since dead, who I new fairly well. He was a quaint character of the old school.
Extremely witty and worldly wise, despite the impression given by his habitual garb of black jacket and striped trousers. A winged collar rounded off the image of the "compleat civil servant."
As names were being discussed as to the most suitable churchman for the Primacy. Churchill suddenly said "What about thai fellow Hinsley? He's damned good. A human being!"
My informant recalls that the "po-faced" gentleman round the table became more p0-faced than ever. Few had even heard of Hinsley.
After much coughing and explaining, but little more than a mischievous smile from Churchill, the name of the favourite, William Temple, was reached. And he, in due course, was duly appointed.
Hinsley and Temple, two great men who were friends, overlapped in their high office for only a short time. Hinsley died in 1943 and Temple in 1944 after only two years as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Cardinal's life was written by Cardinal Heenan, but a new book about him is shortly to be published by Messrs Burns and Oates.
IT WAS AFTER the death of Hinsley that the clique mentioned above, as one of its members told me many years later, moved into action.
It was their unabashed, if discreetly hidden, ambition to find an Archbishop of Westminster who came from what they called "the right background," was something of a scholar, and would break the "old mould."
They admitted, to their friends and confidants, that they wanted to make the Catholic Church in England "more English."
Their candidate for Westminster on the death of Hinsley was David Mathew, a scholarly man indeed, of good family, etc., and friendly with the clique.
Would he have made a good Archbishop of Westminster, having, up until then been an Auxiliary of the diocese? (The actual choice fell on Bernard Griffin, formerly Auxiliary of Birmingham.) David Mathew was very much more pastorally minded than many supposed.
Indeed his greatest, and ultimately more or less unrequited, ambition, was to play a major pastoral role. But his peculiar form of shyness was too easily mistaken for aloofness and he frightened many people by his withdrawn, apparently rather superior attitude. He had no small talk, and was not much good at jollying people along.
He later went into a sort of private wilderness, but held at least one important post before he died, namely as Apostolic Delegate, resident in Mombasa.
He had an enormous territory to cover and he did it with great thoroughness. He mastered the names — often difficult to pronounce — of the many Africans he met, both clergy and laity. He also became friendly with local tribal chiefs.
When the time came to depart, he gave a party for the.
chiefs, who sat on his lawn and were attentively waited on by the half a dozen or so sisters from a nearby convent who, as they fluttered about among the delighted tribesmen, would, every now and then, go and speak to Archbishop Mathew, usually bowing deferentially to him, sometimes even genuflecting.
When the feast was over, one of the chiefs, evidently a apokesman, approached David Mathew and said that his fellow chieftains would like to know more about Christianity as they felt themseli,es very attracted to it.
The Archbishop asked what had prompted this seemingly rather sudden interest. The big chief replied, with a gesture towards the nuns, "Your wives — very good servants! Our wifes — no good for nothing:"
ONE OF THE best books of the "lavishly illustrated" variety to have come out during 1984 was surely R Allen Brown's study of "The Normans" (published by Boydell Press). The author is a true expert on the subject who writes brilliantly.
The conquest of England occupies only one part of the book, just as it comprised only one aspect of the Normans' manifold activity in the eleventh century, notably their penetration into Sicily and participation in the First Crusade.
At the risk of being insular, however, I was struck by an almost throwaway reference to an element of Norman church policy in England which is topical today for two reasons.
One is that there is now much talk about disestablishing the Church. And secondly we are approaching the nine hundredth anniversary of the death of Pope Gregory VII, the famous "Hildebrand" who dominated this period of reform, and put forth strenuous efforts to make the Church everywhere free from secular "interference."
William the Conqueror was nevertheless — though a faithful son of the Church — accustomed, as is here pointed out, both to summon and to preside over church synods as well as to intervene in ecclesiastical jurisdiction as he thought fit.
The theory that the "Catholic Church in England" achieved a measure of independence from the Papacy long before the Reformation owes more, it would seem, to seeds planted in Norman times than to later struggles. Becket's murder changed everything.
After that the Church became all too powerful and the more balanced Norman prototype was lost.
But when poor Gregory VII was hounded out of Rome by the continental champions of state-over-church rights it was the Normans who protected him.
Few books, so easy and delightful to read as this, bring out more clearly that this very sense of balance was perhaps the most salinet characteristic of the Normans' decisive influence on almost every aspect of life in eleventh century Europe.
And it is amazing to think that the wresting of Sicily back from Islam led to the establishment of a fundamentally Norman kingdom there (the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) which lasted right up until the Italian unification of the last century.
IT WAS VERY sad to hear of the death of Abbot Rudesind Brookes, OSB, better known to many (including his biographer Anthony Wheatley) as "Fr Dolly, the Guardsman Monk."
He was an amazing man, some of his most memorable exploits having taken place while he was chaplain with the Irish Guards during the second world war.
He is thought to be the only military chaplain who could have captured half a dozen prisoners armed only with a breviary and a blackthorn stick.
In the citation for his award of the MC after Anzio, it is mentioned that "the sight of Fr Brookes pacing up and down reading his breviary under heavy fire has restored the confidence of many a shaken man." RIP LAST WEEK'S Charterhouse contained some words I had written just before Christmas about Len Goss who had been in hospital getting over, successfully as it had seemed, a serious illness. But with unbearably ironical tragedy, Len, I am grieved to have to report, suffered a relapse and ,died just after Christmas.
The loss to the Council of Christians and Jews and to his countless friends and admirers is irreperable. But most of all, hearts go out to Len's widow Mildred who played a major part in every aspect, private and professional, of Len's busy and fruitful life of service and dedication, ever brimful of hutnanity and good humour.