A Pen-portrait of the Cardinal Archbishop
By the itt. Rev. BISHOP HEENAN
CARDINAL BERNARD GRIFFIN, by Michael de la Bedoyere (Rockilff. 12s. 6d.).
ARE lives of the living worth writing? The obvious answer is that it depends on the person and the writer. But, apart from both, the real answer depends on what is meant by a " life."
Biography of the living is plainly impossible. The biographer of a saint would embarrass both his readers and his subject. The biographer of the rest of us would receive angry letters (including one from our solicitors). No biography is possible only of the dead and, I think, the long-since-dead.
But a pen-portrait or biographical sketch is worth writing if the subject is someone people are always hearing about. We can take for granted that any Archbishop of Westminster is worth hearing about. The only question in-has Michael de la Bedoyere told the public what it wants to know?
No laughing matter
THERE can be no doubt
that this is the kind of picture of their Cardinal that the pious Catholics will be glad to have. For most of them Cardinal Griffin is only a photograph in the Catholic Press. He is a smiling figure-Press photographers 'bully the most morose of us to laugh heartily as if life were one sweet song whenever we appear in public. But unless we are human hyenas we can hardly be laughing all the time.
An Archbishop of Westminster, in any case, has not a great deal to laugh about. As well as the cares of what must be the most difficult of all dioceses to govern-it is cosmopolitan as well as metropolitan -he has the responsibility of being regarded-the only English Cardinal-as the spokesman of the Catholic Church in England. Away from photographers he must spend more time in hard thinking than in laughing.
Battle with illness
THE story of the Cardinal's career is told with compassion. The writer 'cannot disguise his own deep personal admiration for the courage of one who has battled so successfully with ill-health. I have said that ordinary Catholics will be glad to have a description of the man behind the smile. Even the clergy who know him well may he impressed by the quite remarkable enerp His Eminence has shown since his illness. The account of his travels alone would be impressive if he had never been a sick man.
Nobody can withhold applause from one who has fought so gamely against what at one time appeared to be fatal attacks.
The secret, according to the author. is the Cardinal's faith. By faith he does not mean hope. The Cardinal did not ' have faith " that he would get well. That would have been only cheery optimism. The Cardinal had faith in God. lie did not worry about the future when he was struck down.
Nor did he worry when he was appointed to Westminster. " Coleshill is willing," he said. So when he fell sick. He knew with the sure instinct of faith that if God had more work for him to do, health and strength would be provided.
THE author has dis-1charged a difficult task admirably.
The task was difficult because it would he improper for a Catholic writer to criticise either the character or policy of the reigning Archbishop of Westminster-at least publicly.
But another difficulty is greater. It is hard to praise a man in authority without appearing to be a sycophant. The writer has avoided this charge while paying just tribute to the Cardinal's qualities.
He could have gone even further without straining truth. But perhaps he does not know-His Eminence does not advertise itthat the Cardinal is quite unable to resist the appeal of a good cause. When I was parish priest of a much bombed parish, and again when I was Superior of the Catholic Missionary Society, I had thousands of reasons (I speak in sterling terms) for blessing the generosity of the Archbishop of Westminster.
There are two more praiseworthy features of this little book. The photography is lavish and excellent. The book is worth the price if only for its pictures.
Secondly, the author pays tribute to Mgr. Worlock, who discharges a delicate duty with supreme competence and charity. ONCE in Florence, in the presence of the greatest work of the time, talking endlessly about theories of art, caught up into the discovery of the antique world, Raphael's mind expanded like flower petals under the sun. His output was immense and his favourite theme, the Madonna and Child. This was to continue to he his great devotion, and for as long as our civilisation cxists the standard of physical beauty set by a Raphael Madonna. will be the yardstick by which physical beauty is judged.
In Raphael's Madonnas, the setting as well as the figures speak of his tranquillity of mood. The orderly interiors, the flowery field, the radiant sky in which a celestial vision might, and often does. materialise, envelop the sublimely dignified Madonna and her Child, and describe her incomparable grace and rare stillness as an oasis in a world of harsher things.
The grouping of a Raphael composition in these variations on one theme, now begins to appear as one of his strengths. With what creaking machinery did Michelangelo manipulate those three figures of the Holy Family to make a unity, and how often was the result a magnificent failure from the viewpoint of naturalism?
Raphael, with that tantalising ease of his, throws his figures together and they are immediately at home and incontrovertibly right. Behind all this naturalism is much precision of instinct, acquired only by labour and experiment.
Take a Madonna like the Gran dues. There is no simpler picture. It has become now obvious in its simplicity, a classic that needs no explanation, we have forgotten how to analyse the skilful modelling of the Virgin's face. we no longer feel the volume of the body as it stands in the dark space, or the tender, strong way the mother holds her Baby, yet all these build up the exquisite poise of this masterpiece and create that unconscious, instinctive, feeling of perfection.
The illustration here has been chosen hecause, not only is it typical of Raphael's grace. hut also because it is one of his lesser-known masterpieces which we come to with a fresh eye.
Iris Con lay