How an honourable scholar was cheated of the Papacy
THERE has been recently a successful reunion of the old girls of a once famous and respected Catholic school, namely Pole's, formerly situated near Ware in Hertfordshire. The reunion was the first to take place in the original school building, now a luxurious hotel surrounded by a spectacular golf course. For Pole's, though it celebrated a happy golden jubilee in the 1980s, closed soon after that when student numbers began to decline and the nuns in charge felt their work lay elsewhere.
Pole's was, of course, called after the great Reginald Pole, the last Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury, and a man who came within a few dramatic votes of becoming Pope. Had he been actually elected, history could only have been wonderfully changed.
Unfortunately almost all papal elections between the 15th and 19th centuries were primarily political. And at the tense and complicated conclave of 1550 Reginald Pole, an upright and honourable man, free of all bigotry a rare quality in churchmen of that era was deliberately cheated of the triple tiara by the machinations of the French party.
Pole thus returned home to try and become a restraining influence on Mary Tudor, whose burning of Protestants gave Catholicism in England an unenviable reputation from which it has never recovered.
The tragedy of it all was compounded by the election in his stead of Julius II (1550-1555) who was perhaps the nearest thing to a lascivious animal ever to occupy the chair of Peter. The disgusted cardinals, in 1555, elected Cardinal Cervini of Santa Croce (as Pope Marcellus II) by way of protest against the bestiality of the previous pontificate.
Here again, with so gentle and scholarly a pope, history might have been changed for the better. But it was not to be.
Quite soon, Marcellus fell victim to an obscure disease, for which he was treated by being wrapped in the still steaming skins of sheep that had been flayed alive. His pontificate of 25 days was one of the shortest on record. He was succeeded by Paul IV, a cruel, haughty and fanatical bigot. Once more the unfortunate Catholic church was hurled back into a maelstrom of recrimination and chaos.
COME Michelmas this year or, to be exact, on the Monday immediately thereafter I feel I should make a point of taking part, in case it be for the last time, in the election of the next Lord Mayor of London.
I say "for the last time" since it is thought probable that, if a Labour government is elected, the mode of selecting lord mayors of London will be radically altered,
The present system is admittedly archaic and anachronistic, however picturesque. The very fact, indeed, that someone like myself should be involved in the process is itself an anachronism.
For the Lord Mayor at present is elected, at least in theory, by such Freeman of the City of London as are also livery men of one its guild of companies.
As a humble member of the grandiloquently entitled Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers I will thus be among 24,000 or so to be summoned, as my "undoubted right and duty", to appear in person at the Guildhall on Monday September 30, at a quarter before 12 of the clock. Only a few hundred, of course, will actually turn up. The election will be preceded by a traditional service at the adjoining church of St Lawrence Jewry. Here prayers are said for guidance even though the result is invariably a foregone conclusion.
The senior alderman who has not already "passed the chair" ( ie been lord mayor) will almost automatically be declared the winner. The next (664th) Lord Mayor will thus be Sir Alexander Graham, a most charming exsheriff and former Gordon Highlander.
If next year's Lord Mayor is selected by a different method, exactly 800 years will, in that sense, be brought to an end.
THE fact that miracles still officially happen gets welcome confirmation from the progress towards canonisation of Jose Maria Escriva de Belaguer.
He was the "father" of Opus Dei, the 63rd anniversary of whose founding will be celebrated on October 2. Those striving for the beatification of John Henry Newman feel there must be a message here somewhere for them.
Newman, recognised even in his lifetime for his sanctity, has been dead for over a century and the postulators of his "cause" have been working diligently for decades. But to no avail. No miracle, it appears, has yet been officially proved to have resulted from his intercession.
The suggestion has even been made that the canonical requirements for miracles should, as in the case of Thomas More, be waived.
The cause of Escriva de Belaguer, on the other hand, is advancing by leaps and bounds. He has only been dead for 16 years but one miracle has already been accepted as proved and another is expected to be announced shortly. Cynics may say that, since 1978, large sums of money and intensive lobbying have been devoted to the cause in question and that the expensively produced brochures are reaching an ever wider public. It is even said that Opus Dei has had massive influence in Rome since becoming a "personal prelature" of the Pope in 1983.
All this may be true. But money, however plentiful, cannot procure miracles. Only faith can do that. And of faith in the sanctity of Escriva there is plenty.
On the very evening of his death, his successor as president general of Opus Dei spoke publicly of him as "our own father who is in heaven". Opus members, meanwhile, pray for his canonisation not only to God but also to Fscriva himself.
With faith such as this, it is hardly surprising that his cause is The retiring Chief Rabbi advancing so rapidly.
AT the beginning of this month a fond farewell was said to Lord Jakobovits when he was replaced as British Chief Rabbi by Dr Jonathan Sacks. Jakobovits, for nearly a quarter of a century, did unforgettable work for his own community, as well as in the realm of Jewish Christian Relations. He was a joint President of the Council of Christians and Jews during an important and formative period of its existence.
Progress in this field will be reviewed at an important CCJ international conference in Malta during the second week of October.
It is not too late for those who wish to attend to contact CCJ, at 1 Dennington Park Road, London NW6 (Tel: 071-7948178.)