Page 10, 25th August 1978

25th August 1978
Page 10
Page 10, 25th August 1978 — Firm, civil and clear bishop

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Locations: Dublin, Rome, Salford, Canterbury


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Firm, civil and clear bishop


NChronide THE most powerful interpolation in the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church was that of Cahal Daly, the I3ishop of Ardagh and Conmacnoise. He was firm and civil and clear. No, he said, Rome was not compromising over the ordination of women as priests.

He was one of the official observers from other Faiths. These have the right to attend all meetings, to speak, but not to vote.

There had grown up a good deal of confusion on the matter. or perhaps misunderstanding is the better word. There had been a declration of the joint AnglicanRoman Catholic International Commission on the matter which spoke with a less than Roman firmness or Anglican verbal clarity.

Indeed,it left the impression that Rome was keeping an open mind on the subject and certainly this was the idea conveyed to many of the Anglican bishops assembled at Kent University, A careful story about this "Versailles Statement" in The Times reinforced this impression.

More than that, there were the formidable women priests from the United States, Canada and New Zealand — formidable because they were so overwhelming in the integrity of their conviction, and it is not for a reporter to waste time arguing back — who believed that Rome would change its mind, probably in the next papacy.

They believed that Catholic

nuns were now lo embattled on the subject that there would be no gainsaying them.

Clearly, a good deal of Women's Lib was mixed with their longing for the priesthood. They were steam-rollers in controversy. When I mentioned the attitude of the Orthodox who think the idea unthinkable, one merely said: "The Orthodox are wrong and their attitude to women has always been wrong."

Anyway, the Bishop of

Ardagh and Clonmacnoise (how does he sign himself'? Nothing so simple, surely, as Cantuar or Ebor) laid the Roman cards on the table and the bishops will have to decide whether they want serious ecumenism to continue or to have women at their altars.

A fellow journalist, Douglas Brown, now writing for The Church Times, asked one of them why suddenly they were making this demand which was surely the culmination of all the possible demands that could be made by Women's Lib. She gave the brief and absolute answer: "Birth control."

By the time you read this we shall know what the Anglicans have decided. And anyway, nothing this conference decides is in any way binding on the Communion. What they do depend on is the decision of 26 autonomous Provinces. This priesting of women first began in Hong Kong.

Bishop Cahal Daly is a surprising man. He is small in stature, quiet and kindly and youngish for his trade. Unlike most of the Anglicans there he was dressed en clergyman — that is to say in unrelieved clerical black.

He sported no purple and dangled no pectoral cross. He wore the new sort of plain gold episcopal ring which the Pope gave out and which, from a distance, looks rather like a cigar band. There must be an awful lot of amethyst rings, some set in rings of pearls or worse. Lying in episcopal strong-boxes all over the world.

Still more on locusts

LAST WEEK a learned gentleman had a letter in this newspaper, having asked for the last word on locusts, the problem being — what was it that St John the Baptist took with his wild honey in the desert?

Our correspondent plumped firmly for the insect which can be a plague, a natural disaster, a creator of famines.

I, too, have had an extraordinary number of letters on the subject. One reverend gentleman from Salford wrote to say that the only plague they had had in their part of the world was one of reporters.

And since Salford was the scene of the furore about that tragic test-tube baby — tragic for the future of the child and perhaps tragic for the future of humanity — and since the Press behaved uncommonly crassly about the whole affair, he was well justified.

Several wrote of their memory of buying the beans as cheap substitutes for sweets long ago when they were children.

No one seems greatly to have loved them much, since they were hard, subject to weevils and seemed occasionally to have got confused with liquorice, which had at least the virtue of being a mild aperient.

But someone sent me a small, flat parcel which I opened with the caution that we all give to such things nowadays. It turned out to be a health food substitute for chocolate made out of carob fruit which its packaging describes as "St John's Bread". Certainly it has a certain taste of austerity about it, but some visiting children devoured it without complaint.

I did not, and do not, commit myself to anything about this momentous question. However, in a piece about the siege and terrible end of Masada in the century after Christ in the Judaean Hills, I said that the place was garrisoned by Christians, which made nonsense of it all.

For Christains read Jewish Zealots — the most devoted and passionate of all the Jewish sects. It was even suggested after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls that Christ was a Zealot.

I don't know how these things happen or pass by almost unnoticed. "For pheasants read peasants throughout. Or was it the other way round?"

Wild Monks kept learning alive

BISHOP of Daly's diocese of Ardagh is a great deal older than that of Canterbury. It was founded in 454. Canterbury was founded in 597.

The Italian St Augustine, who made the foundation on the orders of that great centraliser and creative organiser Pope St Gregory the Great, must have been a slightly unsatisfactory person. A note of impatience comes into some of St Gregory's letters to him.

There is also recorded that when the surviving Celtic bishops, their Church overwhelmed by pagan Germanic invasions, came to meet this modernising Benedictine, they called on a hermit for advice. How would they know if he were truly a man of God?

They were told that if he stood to greet them, then he was such a man. He stayed sitting, and the Celtic Church went its own way in amiable but distant contact with Rome until they were brought to heel at the Synod of Whitby.

But they added Clonmacnoise to his title, and it is not even a village but the scattered ruin of, the greatest Irish monastery. Don't think of Fountains or Rievaulx. It is a scattering of ruined stone huts like an abandoned encampment.

There is a tiny church at the centre — roofless but fine. And there are some great standing crosses, and it all looks over the Shannon River to a bog. It is a beautiful, desolate, dank, blindingly green sort of place.

It was founded by St Ciaran, who died in 544. He was called "The Carpenter's Son" which may have been because he was not a noble or because the Irish used to give their saints Messianic qualities.

He died when he was 32, and

I'm not surprised. It must have been the coldest, wettest place imaginable: no great church or refectory and a great deal of rain.

Saint Ciaran is said to have chosen an easier place, but then the thought was too luxurious. When he saw the present site, it clicked. He said: "Here we will stay, for many souls will go to Heaven hence."

It had a pretty chequered history. It suffered from the plague in the 7th century. It was burnt three times in the 8th century. It was sacked by Danes and Irish chiefs in the 9th and 10th centuries.

And it went to war with the rival monastery of Darrow and 200 monks were lost in the fighting. It got stifled by the Norman Benedictines.

It sounds a dread place, yet Europe owes it an immeasurable, debt. These damp monks in sheepskin and leather were the greatest scholars of their time.

Sophisticated artefacts were made for their tiny altars. The Ardlagh Chalice is incomparable, complicated, solid, gorgeous and yet disciplined. Go and see this Celtic religious treasure in the National Museum in Dublin and never, ever, smile at an anti-Irish joke again.

But more than that, these wild monks kept classical learning alive. They did not regard Plato and Aristotle as aspects of the pre-Christian Devil as the rest of Christendom did. They used them in their own writing.

And they went all over Europe telling kings and bishops to sober up and return to their wives and quit their concubines and behave themselves. They were not widly popular with the upper classes, but you'll find Irishmen in shrines in such places as Ratisbort, St Gall, in Switzerland and Gubbio in Italy.

They also loved nature, and while writing or copying would sometimes get whimsical in the margins of their sacred manuscripts. They'd write in Irish how sweet the sun felt on their cold hands or how beautiful it looked on the page of their book.

They were sometimes impossibly strict and to us look almost inhuman, and yet these unwashable scholars could write things like: A hedge of trees surrounds me, A blackbird's lay sings to me; Above my lined booklet The trilling birds chant to me.

In a grey mantle from the top of the bushes The cuckoo sings;

Verily — may the Lord shield mel Well do I write under the greenwood tree.

It must be daunting to have s. holy and human a place in your title and honour.

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