A GREAT deal is said and written about pluralism in the Catholic Church today.
Roughly, it could be said to mean "doing your own thing" within the confines of a revealed and reasonably disciplined religion: this would include variations in the liturgy, slightly different approaches like that of the
Charismatics, and differences of opinion over some of the rarer points of doctrine and authority.
In fact, "pluralism" means none of these things and not even theolgians have any right to monkey about with tne language.
Pluralism means two things. The first is the holding of several benefices at the same time by one man, and that is now regarded as in bad taste, if it be done simply as a genteel way of acquiring an income.
In the 18th century, the Rev the Earl of Guildford drew something like £10,000 a year for his portfolio of benefices in the money of the time. And he was basically only a parish priest.
But then his kid brother was the Prime Minister, Lord North, a civilised and witty man who is usually blamed for the providential loss of the American colonies.
The other meaning signifies a system of thought in which there can be more than one ultimate principle. And that, most emphatically, is not what those who advocate a pluralistic solution to the current problems of the Church mean. It does not mean different modes to the same end. They will have to think of a new word.
But in our parish we practise some of this so-called "pluralism", though, of course, without the appalling im plications of the real meaning of the word.
The parish priest is tolerant about some details. At the time of Communion you see some people kneeling .and sonic standing, some with their hands made in a throne in the manner defined by Justin Martyr in the second century, some kneeling with their mouths open like birds in a nest.
In addition, at most Sunday Masses, a chalice of consecrated wine is set at each end of the altar and people go up to help themselves. There is no curate, no deacon (though we have at least two dalmatics) and no one licensed to give Communion. It is in fact very moving.
Parents help their children to make sure there is no accident. People approach the handling of the cup with an obvious awe and wipe it with exquisite care. But not everyone chooses to go up for the Second Kind and it causes no sort of dissension.
Gentle, almost painless
To say this is a transitional period in the long history of the Church would be to border on the obvious. But our transition is gentle and almost painless.
However, some things are not wholly acceptable. The parish priest has a good voice and a catholic taste in hymns. But he is not devoted to some of the Holy Oldies.
The other Sunday, we sang "God Bless Our Pope", because someone had asked for it. A large number of the congregation thought it was me which was a little unsubtle of them. However I was fascinated to hear the old words again.
They will come as an astonishment to many young Catholics. They are the high peak of triumphalism. They are not of a rarefied spirituality. They are Victorian poetry with a violet cream centre. i was fascinated by them. A couple of couplets in particular stick in the memory:
Full in the panting heart of Rome Beneath the Apostle's crowning dome.
or evenmore architecturally explicit;
golden roof, the marble walls.
The Vatican's majestic halls.
The congregation's reaction was curious. They sang it, though i think some were angry at it. Some laughed and some were moved by so pious a return of the past. I do not think we shall ever sing it again, though 1 must have sung it thousands of times myself under umbrellas in the rain, at public meetings, in new churches wherever, in fact, pre-war Catholics came together to assert and reassure themselves.
The fascinating thing is that it was written by the first Archbishop of Westminster Nicholas, Cardinal Wiseman.
Wiseman's success story
Those who mock this hymn should understand why it was written and the man who wrote it. It is an integral part of our history as a sect. It, and that past, should be treated wit love
and care and an exquisite understanding.
You kick your own past away, particularly the past of your forefathers who are not decently veiled in medieval wimples or involved in AngloSaxon attitudes, with the sort of peril that a man with a rope round his neck kicks away the kitchen chair. It must be done expertly and for good reason, On the whole it is better not done at all.
The hymn was written for an English minority who were so cut off that they had begun at last to feel humiliated by their own fidelity to the old religion. The Church of England really receded to its lowest ebb about 1800. This was the Southend Beach of Catholicism in part because the pressures to conform were being quietly lifted.
Wiseman died with (though not of) a broken heart. But then many good and great pastors do. The good shepherd on earth never feels worthy of his flock. And it is the tendency of flocks to regard their shepherds, especially if they are devoted and careful, to be infernal nuisances.
But Wiseman's reads like a success story. He was in fact Irish. His father was a merchant and he was born in Seville. He was educated at Waterford, Ushaw and the English College in Rome. He became Rector of it at the age of 26.
He came to England again and became President of Oscott and Coadjutor Bishop to the Central District, He found the English sadly cut off from their Continental brethren. He wanted to introduce the counter-Reformation splendours of incense and Benediction.
The English, who scarcely knew the Rosary, recoiled from such things as being too Italian, Dr Lingard, the great historian who taught at Ushaw and remained Wiseman's friend, even resisted the giving up of the brown suits that the clergy habitually wore there.
When England blew up
In 1850 Pius IX reinstituted the English Hierarchy. England blew up. It was "Papal aggression".
I.ord John Russell, the Prime Minister, promoted the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill which made it illegal for the Catholics to use any of the current Anglican titles. They had no intention of doing so.
The Catholic Metropolitan in the North was set at Liverpool, not at York. And whenever you come across a two-bishop city, it is because the Anglican See is a later creation.
Wiseman was a warm and impulsive man and his hymn was part of the move to encourage the defeatists and raise up a new sort of pride and solidarity. He succeeded in part.
But, as so often happens to embattled minorities. the Church in England was beset with dissension and there was some ugly in-fighting, roughly between the new or convert Catholics and the old who had borne the heat of sun led by Bishop Errington. This is what so saddened Wiseman.
Actually the new, under Manning, won, and Archbishop Errington, as he became, retired with real nobility and obedience to a parish. There is a moral for us there somewhere, and it is even more than "don't break your bishop's heart."
Prayers for Ida Nudel
IT MAY sound absurd, but it is the very opposite; Many churches, particularly Anglican ones, throughout the country are arranging for bells to be tolled and special prayers said this Sunday. They are for the good
estate of a woman called Ida Nudel, and, under God, she needs them.
She is an unemployed Russian economist, It is well known that if you become prominent in opposition to the system in Russia certain things happen to you. You lose your job and perhaps your housing.
The same can happen to you if you apply for a permit to emigrate to Israel. Such people have to exist in a limbo because they are at once dangerous and non-persons. They survive on the generosity and courage of their friends.
Ida Nudel has made a speciality of giving help to Soviet Jews who have got into trouble for wanting to leave the country. And when they pass into that no-man's-land of officialdom and rejection, she tries to help with gifts of food and medicine and whatever else she can provide. She herself is believed to he in danger of being "treated" in a psychiatric hospital.
Ida Nudel's plight has already been raised in the House of Commons, and several women MPs are trying to help her. It is said that there is still some vulnerability to international public opinion le(t in Russia, but its working is utterly unpredictable.
The argument apart, of course, from common humanity is that the persistent refusal to issue an exit permit for Mrs Nudel to join her husband, who is already in Israel, is a contravention of that paper-thin Helsinki Agreement. It will be interesting to find if the bells of British churches can be heard in Moscow.
Good Christian readers
PRESIDENT TRUMAN, that great and common man, once said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". By which he meant that if you can't stand the routine obloquy of politics, the inevitable bias of your opponents and the cruelty of cartoonists and commentators, you should not be in politics.
Our own British politicians seem curiously over-sensitive to heat, and the least whiff from the ovens of Fleet Street seems to bring them out in a bitter sweat. (What a perfectly revolting analogy!) But the axiom applies to the Press too. I often wince at the venom of the letters I sometimes get as a result of this
splendid and quite often accurate column. And I do get upset and I don't like some of the sort of people who come into my kitchen. I hasten to assert that they have every right of entry.
The week before last I wrote a piece about the Charismatic Movement, of which my knowledge is not based on personal experience. But though I have had a number of letters, they have been utterly different from those from the Tridentine buffs or those who think that Communion in the hand is a blasphemy.
They have all been gentle,. polite chiding perhaps, but not a word of abuse. They all claim to have found a new sort of happiness. I don't think I'll ever make a Charismatic. But I have to recognise that the thing seems to have worked. I have been profoundly impressed.
One of my correspondents even sent me a cassette of Dom Ian Petit talking to Charismatics at Ampleforth. Our whole parish is being turned upside down to find a machine to play it on.
could, of course, recall that Ian Petit was a small boy in the school when I was there and not take the so-far-mysterious cdntents of the cassette seriously. But then I am afraid I could say precisely the same about the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
Depressing RE results
SOME rather depressing news from the Church Information Office, which is the Anglican publicity office at Westminster, A clergyman has been reporting on the results of the systematic religious education taught in schools in the town of Chesterton in Cambridgeshire.
He says that the Christian event of the year that is far and away the best known to children of between eight and 13 years old is "Mother's Day". 1 thought that was an American commercial festival, and have not the slightest idea when it Occurs.
He goes on to report that the frills of Christmas are familiar. Good Friday usually draws a total blank. Easter means eggs. Whitsun does not exist. This is
evidence not only of deChristianisation, but of real cultural impoverishment.
I did once have a small boy in the house who pointed at a crucifix and asked: "What's that for?" It was then that I really discovered how bad a proselytiser 1 am. I was embarrassed. He was bored until I let him polish it. For it was made of brass,
The Save the Children Fund has appointed Miss Ann Bagehot as National Gypsy Liaison Officer. Her job will involve assessing the problems of Britain's 30,000 gypsies, espedially the educational and social handicaps faced by families with young children.