By Norman St. John-Stevas, M.P.
CHR1STMAS is a time of rejoicing for the whole nation. But obviously for Christians it has a special significance, and this year we have particular reason to he glad sine at no time over the last four hundred years have Christians been closer together than at the present time. The future is bright with promise and I take the opportunity of wishing all my readers a holy Christmas and an ecumenical New Year.
The Christmas story does appeal to the religious instincts of millions of our fellow countrymen who rarely darken the door of a Church and this I think is the answer to Miss Brigid Brophy, who on Saturday .was appearing on "Not So Much a Programme" and claiming that the story of Bethlehem was indistinguishable from the myth of Zeus and the Dartae.
The difference is that the lives of millions today and over the centuries have been transformed by the Christian "myth": no one can make such a claim for Zeus.
There is the further distinction that while faith is necessary for the acceptance of the Christian story one is required to make an act of faith in historical events, that at a certain point in time God did intervene in the universe and the incarnation came about. Christianity has always been uncompromisingly historical and that is a point of which Miss Brophy seemed happily unaware: unfortunately no one attempted to dispel her ignorance.
Christmas is also a time for present giving, a pleasing enough custom and my chief Christmas present this week has been Lady Violet Bonham-Carter's or Lady Asquith's (as we must now call her) entry into parliament. On Wednesday she took her seat in the House of Lords and my only regret is that it was not in the Commons where her soaring spirit would be more at home.
Lady Violet's career (I plead guilty to solecism) has a double irony about it. Her father Was an tInCOMprfnthing opponent of women's suffrage yet lived to see all
his prejudices brilliantly refuted in his daughter's person. The other irony is less happy: that the most accomplished feminine politician of our time should never have sat in the House . of Commons.
Lady Violet has partly been the victim of circumstances and partly of her own uncompromising character. her effective political life span has coincided with the long decline of the Liberal party and her own loyalty to Liberal principle forbade the slightest compromise with Liberal orthodoxy.
Her great friend Sir Winston Churchill used all his influence to get her into the Commons but when she stood at Colne Valley she scorned to stand. in her own words, as a "hyphenated hybrid" under the label "Liberal-Conservative" and hence failed to secure the diehard Tory vote and was defeated.
Conscience has been Lady Violet's guiding star over the years and from this springs her reservations about Catholicism. She feels especi ally strongly about the Catholic canonical position over mixed marriages and was mortified when these were extracted from a near relative.
Outrage followed when one of the parties concerned in an ill-judged bid to mollify her told her that the promises were of little practical effect, "You wouldn't," replied Asquith's daughter scorn fully, "dream of forging a cheque, and this involves something infinitely more important than money." Lady Violet's other outstanding characteristic is her ability to use the English language. She is a master of arresting phraseology and her invective can be biting. Some years ago she was engaged in controversy with Mr. Robert Blake, the historian, over art assertion in his biography of Boner Law that the Tory Leader had found her father, then Prime Minister, playing bridge in wartime before luncheon, and this had materially contributed to his conviction that Asquith was a dilatory war leader.
Relentlessly she demolished the evidence in the columns of The Times and when fihally driven into a corner Mr. Blake called in aid the assertions of Lord Beaverbrook she finished him off with the phrase: "This is not history; this is ventriloquism."
Their lordships are clearly going to have a stimulating new year and may Lady Asquith long be there to stir them up.