Page 10, 22nd July 1983

22nd July 1983
Page 10
Page 10, 22nd July 1983 — Palaeontology in the cradle of Parliament

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Organisations: House of Commons


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Palaeontology in the cradle of Parliament

Charterhouse ,Chronicle

TODAY happens to he the anniversary of the birthday (on July 22, 1822) of Gregor Johann Mendel whose discoveries in the field of heredity might have changed the world's thought if any attention had been paid to them . at the time. His key work, based on pea breeding experiments, was published in 1870 but hit a wall of arrogance among members of the scientific societies who ignored the researches of this obscure Austrian monk.

He was ahead of Darwin since his conclusions were based on verifiable experiments rather than mere theories. But his 1870 paper was only rediscovered after his death. Had a copy of it been sent to Darwin when first written, it would have made a revolution in the history of nineteenth century science.

It might also have helped Teilhard de Chardin when his turn came to try to demonstrate the lack of conflict between genuine science and genuine religion. It was palaeontology, of course, rather than biology, that was Teilhard's primary field. But he came to realise that a new biological regime was emerging on earth, that of evolution in its "hominised" phase. In other words, evolution as related to man who, far from being one of life's accidents, represents life in its highest form. Man is here seen not as the centre of the world but rather as the spearhead of its evolution whose author is God himself.

But it was here that Teilhard gained enemies, both inside and outside the Church. All the more reason for going along, while there is still time, to the outstandingly good Teilhard Exhibition at the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey. It continues until July 30 before transferring to Martin Hall in Edinburgh.

On my own second visit to the Exhibition I was lucky enough to meet its chief organiser, the charming Count Alain de Liedcrkerke who told me that there has never before been an exhibition at Westminster Abbey's Chapter House. But one can hardly imagine this one being anywhere else. The light pours down on the exhibits, photographs and explanations from the lofty stained glass windows of this magnificent octagonal edifice. The mind of an extraordinary man opens itself to you slowly but surely as you work your way round the exhibits.

No better time than during a heatwave to visit this historic chamber. For you approach it through the coolness of beautiful fourteenth century cloisters. You can gratefully reflect, on arrival, that this Chapter House was virtually the birthplace of parliament. The House of Commons held its most formative meetings here in Edward III's reign and continued to do so for nearly two centuries.

It is a worthy venue in which to meditate on the human agency of God's evolutionary creation and all that is implied by the phrase "The Phenomenon of Man." The book of that name, Teilhard's master work, was written during one of his expeditions to China where so many of life's mysteries became less impenetrable to the visionary Jesuit scientist,

Globe-trotter's golden jubilee

CONGRATULATIONS to the one and only Dom Columba Cary-Elwes who, as reported last week, anticipated the golden jubilee of his priesthood with family and friends in London. His actual anniversary is tomorrow as he was ordained on July 23, 1933.

An immensely lovable character with much of the "Povorello" in him, Dom Columba has been all over the world in the coarse of his endlessly optimistic encounter with humanity.

Seeing good all around him, he would constantly return to the theme of his multi-cultural monastic vision in his lecture and retreat giving visits to India, East Africa, Uganda, Australia, Manila and elsewhere.

Members of his community have always teased him for having done so much and travelled so far after originally taking a "vow of stability" within the confines of Ampleforth. But, of course, all was done under obedience.

He was the founder Prior of St Louis Priory in the USA: I visited it a few years ago and it is flourishing. So, DO is Dom Columba. Long may he continue to do so.

Thames Valley shake-up

I MENTIONED a week or two ago the contentions surrounding Cardinal Bourne's attempts many years ago to rationalise certain anomalous diocesan boundaries, including those concerning Oxfordshire. I have since learned that no little scandal was caused by some of the internal wrangling that went on. No such troubled waters have invaded the latest round of discussions which bring yet nearer the new diocese proposed for the "Thames Valley," or, more exactly, the counties of Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

Three dioceses are currently involved, namely Portsmouth, Birmingham and Northampton. Portsmouth would be yielding a large amount of territory namely almost all of Berkshire and eight parishes in Oxfordshire.

Birmingham would lose scarcely less by giving up the rest of Oxfordshire.

Northampton would yield up Datchet and Slough in order to unite Berkshire in the new diocese, and Reading would also be united by gaining Caversham (from Birmingham). Oxford, as a city, would also be freed from the former division of being in two different dioceses.

The jig-saw puzzle is not as complicated as it sounds, but was made so in the past by county boundary changes and the fact that, as of many years, the Thames had been used in one area as a dividing line. But the new diocese would spread out widely on both banks of the river. Hence the appropriateness of the description "Thames Valley," though this has not yet officially been chosen as a title.

Where will the Bishop reside? It would be nice to think of Oxford as his See, but there is of course already an Anglican bishopric there. In the rare cases, such as Southwark, where a common diocesan name is shared, it is because the Anglican diocese happened to come later.

Reading would be the obvious place and the new unit would he both geographically neat and pastorally would also be ideal. Communications would be infinitely easier than under the present arrangements, and a sense of intimacy and close association would quickly spring up between all areas of the diocese.

Cardinal Bourne's general ideas for the area would be corning into operation. But the need is far greater now than then, and there is much more tact and sensitivity in the offing.

Congratulations to all concerned, ever since the Groundplan first came out, and on the fact that consultations unlike those of the 1920's have been so widespread and friendly.

Bishop lets his hair down

HAVING already expressed regret at the departure from the Vatican of Bishop Agnellus Andrew, perhaps I should add some news heard by telephone from Rome during the week.

His staff took the unusual step of writing him a long letter expressing their "bitter regret" at the thought of his departure. They felt they were losing "both a father and a big 'little brother'." They ended their letter by saying they were "deeply grateful" for his guidance.

The Bishop himself was no less reluctant to leave but knew that retirement age meant it was essential. But as he doesn't look his age he didn't cut his hair for several weeks. It was being said in Rome that the Pope, who kept him waiting some time before accepting his resignation, would think him far too young to go if he saw him with'his hair short.

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