IT WAS recently the feast of St James. He is one of the four who always get mentioned in
the gospels, except in that of John who seems to have been his brother and family delicacy forbade family publicity. Or so one presumes as a journalist. I never mention my sisters by name in print.
I really write this because a pair of my neighbours, not Catholics, have just returned, floored, from Santiago. They are people of fastidious taste. Their faith is very English but very respectful of Rome. There exists a respect for those luxuries of our Faith that a hundred years ago would have evinced contempt, superiority and an aversion that bordered upon fear. Like some old funicular or cogwheel tram, we notch our way upwards towards the summit of the peace that is imperatively required of us.
However, St James who was called Yakob in Hebrew was the son of Salome and Zebedee. Ile is known as "the Greater" because there was another James in the Team who was known as "the Less" which is worse than being the patron of Absolutely Hopeless Causes. But it is thought that he was called this because he was not so tall as the other James.
St James the Great came of quite a good family. He may have been related to Jesus and Mary, but the relationship is both intricate and doubtful and would not make for light columnar reading now that bible studies dwell upon more fundamental concerns.
It is said that he preached in Spain. I cannot prove that he did not. He went back to Jerusalem and was executed with the sword by "king" Herod Agrippa I whom, you will all recall, was the son of Aristobulus and the grandson of Herod the Great. Ile did this to please the natives who were getting restive about the success of the Nazarenes.
Then it is said that, after a decent interval of a few centuries. angels took his body back to Spain, to the place now called Santiago of Compostela.
I suppose it is one of the places that I shall never visit now. But at one time in Christendom there were four major places of pilgrimage. There was Rome which was crowded and had a lot of robbers around it. There was Jerusalem which was never quite safe and became almost suicidal.
There was Santiago which was a tough trip down some of the main roads of Europe. And there was Walsingham which has echoed down our history as a sort of protracted and jolly football outing. This seems to have been supplanted by St Thomas of Canterbury which was even jollier, Nowadays Rome is exciting. Jerusalem is so timeless as to be overwhelming. Lourdes is as ugly as death to look at but a single visit there changes people so strong is the presence. I've never been to Walsingham and Canterbury is, not empty, but in such gorgeous and great good taste that it's hard to snatch a prayer there. Which is pretty unfair to its devoted custodians.
I cannot find out why St James attracted so vast a stream of pilgrims that it affected the nature and course of European history. He has a superb cathedral and a mass of treasure and a high altar gilded, where it is not solid silver, that looks like a frozen explosion of glory.
There is also a massive censor as big as a man that is slung from the roof and on feast days swung to and fro by ropes until Protestants choke and Northern' Catholics fumble for hankies.
Goodness, what fun! The building started in the 9th Century and they went on monkeying about with it until 1750. A good year in which to stop. So all the styles are there, from the Old Brutality of the Romanesque to the madness of baroque. The result is nut English.
I cannot explain why St James caused such excitement that one of the bishops of this See was excommunicated for competing with Rome, nor why his pilgrims wore scallop shells, now the sacred emblem of BP, which at least appears to be one of our great and triumphant multinational corporations. Come to think of it, there is a basic multinationality about this Apostle who still draws the crowds to their knees.
Lovely bunch of coconuts
THE STORY from the New Hebrides is one of the oddest. At the game of deeolonisation we have once again been beaten by the French whose brilliant ruthlessness seems positively. more acceptable than our official liberalism.
The Islands were discovered by the Spanish in the 17th Century — except of course that the Melanesians who lived there discovered it first. but that never seems to count.
Captain Cook•visited them in 1774 and in 1887 the French and the British set up a naval protectorate over their nationals who were trading and farming there. Their largest export was copra which is the kernel of the coconut which is left in the sun to dry and gives out a poignant rich smell that means exotic and rather run down ports to any traveller. When crushed the nuts turn out to be 70"„ oil.
Most of the settlers were and are on Espiritu Santo and they want to stay and keep their status and most of them are French and a French settler with something to lose is one of the toughest and stupidest and most stubborn cookies in the world.
Britain and France annexed the 60 islands in 1906 and set up a colony on the cheap and bickered and competed for prestige. The natives had been greatly reduced by the ordinary European diseases. There was also blac kbirding. This was prevalent in the early days of the settlement of Australia. It was based on the excuse that Europeans were not suited to work in the scorching cane fields of North Queensland. So ships captains used to "buy" Melanesians for a three year indenture — a pair of trousers was considered a good price. They were also kidnapped. In addition, if they jumped overboard to escape they could be brought back at the end of long poles hooked into their matted hair. This was called "Wooling". Not unnaturally, they resented it.
In 1871 the first Anglican bishop of Melanesia was John Coleridge Patterson. He was making a visitation to the islands when he was captured and killed in revenge for the kidnapping. This happened on one of the small islands. The bishop was a strong opponent of blackbirding. His body was put on a raft. This was floated out to the mission boat, the Southern Cross. The body was covered with palm fronds in which there were five knots, one for each of five islanders who had been abducted a kw days earlier.
Now the new prime minister is an Anglican clergyman and as turbulent as any mediaeval late vocation. Neither he nor the "rebels" on Espiritu Santo are making it easy for France and Britain and I don't blame them.
I would not believe wholely, if I were you, that popular story that some of them worship the Duke of Edinburgh. There were an awful lot of journalists there and they had practically nothing to do.
Dr Johnson on the Mass
DR JOHNSON was a sort of saint. He was less ferocious than St Jerome. He feared God greatly. He was a Tory, fed his cat on oysters, lived just off Fleet Street. Ate too much. Worked as hard as a barman at the rush hour — but most of the day. Suffered atrociously from guilt and a sense of sin.
He was, I suspect, rather offensive physically. He could be an impatient bully. But he was marvellously wise. And sensible. And talked like a steam roller.
Someone found for me a quotation I have long been looking for. That rather nasty ,little Scotsman, James Boswell who was I fear the greater artist of the two, was toadying along as usual this time about the fact that his admirable servant was a
Bohemian Catholic. So after Johnson having been rather dismissive of the Presbyterians. the dialogue went on.
"I proceeded: 'What do you think, Sir, of Purgatory, as believed by the Roman Catholics?'
JOHNSON. 'Why sir, it is a very harmless doctrine. '1 hey are of the opinion that the generality of mankind are neither so obstinately wicked as to deserve everlasting punishment, nor so good as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed spirits; and therefore that God is graciously pleased to allow of a
middle state, where they may be purified by certain degrees of suffering. You see, Sir, there is nothing unreasonable in this.'
BOSWELL. 'But then, Sir, their Masses for the dead?'
JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, if it be once established that there are souls in purgatory. it is as proper
to pray for them as for our brethren of mankind who are yet in this life,'
BOSWELL. 'The idolatry of the Mass?'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, there is no idolatry in the Mass. They believe God to be there and they adore him.'
BOSWELL. 'The worship of saints?' .
JOHNSON. 'Sir, they do not worship saints: they invoke them; they only ask their prayers. I am talking all this time of the doctrines of the Church of Rome. I grant you that in practice, purgatory is made a lucrative imposition, and that the people do become idolatrous as they recommend themselves to the tutelary protection of particular saints. I think that their giving the sacrament only in one kind is criminal, because it is contrary to the express institution of Christ, and I wonder how the Council of Trent admitted it.'
JOHNSON. 'Why I don't know but that is a good thing. The Scripture says, 'Confess your faults one to another,' and the priests confess as well as the laity. Then it must be considered that their absolution is only upon repentance, and often upon penance also. You think your sins may be forgiven without penance, upon repentance alone.'
"I thus ventured to mention all the common objections against the Roman Catholic church, that I might hear so great a man upon them. What he said is here accurately recorded. But it is not improbable that, if one had taken the other side, he might have reasoned differently.
"Imust however mention, that he had a respect for 'the old religion,' as the mild Melanchon called that of the Roman Catholic church, even while he was exerting himself for its reformation in some particulars. Sir William Scott informs me, that he heard Johnson say, 'A man who is converted from Protestantism to Popery, may be sincere: he parts with nothing: he is only superadding to what he already had. But a convert from Popery to Protestantism gives up so much of what he has held as sacred as any thing that he retains — there is so much laceration of mind in such a conversion — that it can hardly be sincere and lasting'."
This was in an 1859 edition edited by The Right Hon John Wilson Croker, MP. These remarks brought the editor out in a painful rash of footnotes and quotes from worthy and surprised bishops. Still these remarks are worth remembering and they came from a man who considered the English Way of divine origin which was only interfered with by mischevious fools.