THE POLISH Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski last year submitted his resignation to the Pope on reaching the required age of 75. No prelate in our time, including the Pope, has had a more stormy passage.
No other prelate has had to care for the faith and identity of his nation in quite the same way. He is the Archbishop of Warsaw and the Primate of Poland and, when in 1956 it looked as if Poland was about to rebel against the hardship and boredom of being imprisoned within the Russian orbit, the Cardinal joined the Polish Corn munist leaders (who had put him in prison) in resisting the Russian pressure and in per suading the Poles not to indulge themselves in a suicidal uprising that would only bring in the Russian legions.
He was a very jealous guardian of this faith and identity. lie did not compromise . with the Communist leaders. Indeed his resistance, his demands, his denunciations from the pulpit seemed almost too intran sigent. Outsiders criticised him for making the position of the Polish
cathohcs unnecessarily difficult. He believed that if he gave an inch, the Communists would take an ell. So Vatican II came late to Poland.
It was said that Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Cracow, was made a Cardinal in order to check him and there were rumours in plenty that they did not work together easily.
But Cardinal Wyszynski, whose resignation was refused by Rome, has somewhat changed. But then so has the government of Poland.
Nothing basic has changed in that country. The government is still not
of the people's choosing though it is compelled by the threat of strikes and unacceptable violence to take notice of the feelings of the people.
Cardinal Wyszynski is said at last to have decided that the nature of
Poland cannot be changed fundamentally and that the faith there has roots that cannot be torn up.
Some time ago there was published outside Poland a collection of his sermons that seemed to be almost Marxist and to be pro-government. In fact they were a forgery that has not been publicly explained in any satisfactory way and they have had no effect. No-one except the maddest sort of exile could have hoped to benefit from such a ploy.
The Cardinal has not compromised. It seems that, convinced of the strength of what he stands for, he has lifted the full weight of his moral pressure off the Party and Governmen'. This is a measure of success, not r weakness.
THERE was a time when it was fashionable to be dismissive of bishops in this country. It was thought among Catholics to denote an uncluttered and progressive attitude. And perhaps it did have its roots in that hunger for change and development that, we forget, preceded the Second Vatican Council.
Whether things have greatly changed I du not know. Cer
tainly the episcopate is less princely than it was. • It does not jab with its crozier when irritated by layers of clothing or turbulent altar boys in the sacristy; it does not reprimand distinguished scholars for reading their sermons; it does not prefer the cares ohs farm to those of a diocese; it does not believe that the diocese is so broke that it cannot afford to educate any new priests; these and others have in fact all been added by the English episcopate to the treasury of English eccentricity. But the outward mark of a bishop today is overwork. He has continually to criss-cross his diocese as if he were a member up for election in a marginal constituency.
I would have thought that a British bishop's life insurance prospects were about as sound as those of men on motorcycles. They should really sit back more and contemplate their jewellery. What we need is a Quiet Bishop.
All this has been wrung out of me by the encroachments of Bishops' Engagements on this page. Like rising damp, they are coming up from under this column. Chartcrhouse is an ecologically threatened area. The bishops, like sand-dunes. are imperceptibly moving onwards and upwards smothering the lush pastures of Charterhouse.
Popularly this inexorable disease is a source of suspicious dread. Potent saints are invoked against it in small middle-class prayer groups in suburbs. Generally it is known as The Purple Death.
In parts of Yorkshire. however, it is known as The Bishops' Blight. In Oxford it is dreaded in the colleges as The Episcopal Evil.
That peculiar negative photograph of a Franciscan friar in a 1920 cloister that used proudly to head this rich space has been killed off. So have some of the broad, rolling inches of print. I tremble to think what may have to go next.
Hell closed for repairs
HELL appears nowadays to be closed for structural repairs. More than that, its old decor has been thrown aside despite the fact that a new CTS pamphlet on Hell has a photograph of the fiery eruption of a volcano on its cover.
Fr Dominic Devas, who is a Franciscan, has written about The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment. The present attitude seems to have made hell a safely empty place. The idea of the love and the compassion of God is now so dominant that it is hard to see how Hell can be fitted in. Fr Devas says, "How can the call of Christ be so completely and finally set aside as to result in damnation?"
Not easy. Fr Devas writes that a mortal (or fatal) sin requires the full consent of the will and a knowledge of the issues involved. All the words mean something there. The full consent may be weakened by passion; the requisite knowledge is beyond the reach of most. Indeed, it is back to the current idea that Hell is a pbssibility that has never been used. He does think that a man might achieve the necessary, effective rejection of God by a course of calculated cruelty to his fellow men, carefully pursued and long drawn out. And that is a form of sin that we have brought to a fine flower within the last 40 years. He rather dismisses the traditional imagery of Hell as clothing for a metaphysical idea that would only confuse the unsophisticated if presented naked. The worm that dieth not is really the loneliness and darkness left by the rejection of God. But Fr Devas still makes it sound downright difficult to make this rejection to the full. So we are still where we started. The decorators are still at work.
Changing times on Mt Athos
THERE are rumours of change on Mount Athos. This is strange and exciting coming from the most unchanging part of the unchanging Holy Orthodox Church.
Mount Athos is that monastic republic scattered along a peninsula that pokes out into the Aegean. The monasteries are built like sudden walled cities in fairy stories, on the edge of the sea, on the top of mountains, on the sickening edges of chasms. They tend to be crowded with domes and to hang out rickety balconies over appalling heights.
More than 1,000 years old, the Holy Mountain has been a place of endless prayer. There were 7,500 monks here in 1905 and half of them were Russian. No females are allowed on the peninsula and that extends to cows and goats, though not to chickens.
In the past it was the most unchanging part of the unchanging Orthodox church. It has had a comparatively uneventful history. It has been raided by pirates. With the rest of Orthodoxy it was excommunicated by Rome in 1054. In the 13th century it was forcibly reunited with Rome and there was a good deal of resistance to the Latin authority. There were some martyrs. There were also some collaborationists and the grisly remains of monks who accepted Rome are preserved in the Cave of the Wicked Dead.
The monks, after the fall of Constantinople, accepted the rule of the Turks who left them alone and that was what they most wanted. But time and politics have worn them down.
In 1905 there were 7,500 monks on the peninsula ruled by a council of representatives from the 20 chief monasteries. Their numbers have dwindled and the buildings have decayed. No recruits came from the Orthodox churches that fell to Communism. The place became an eccentric sideshow for the tourists.
Indeed since the 18th century, the place had been visited by the sort of independent tourists who did not care about a prevalence of fleas, ecclesiastical gongs, chanting, bean soup and steep paths. They wrote books about their experiences and they tended to make superior fun of the monks and to swindle them out of precious manuscripts and ikons.
The monks tended to be ignorant, peasant and careless about possessions and scholarship. The conservation of historically significant works of art was not their care. In fact they need no defending. Their job was prayer. But the rule of the right wing Colonels in Greece seems to have jolted the Greeks out of their religious complacency and isolationism. Intellectuals are going into the monasteries.
Mount Athos has closed itself to tourism and you have to get a visa to visit it, proving that you have some serious purpose. The Russians who, under the Tsars, provided about half of the monks and a great deal of the finance, arc letting 90 Russian Orthodox monks go to Mount Athos. The Romanians too have let some monks go,
On Athos itself, there is a new interest in scholarship and the monks are looking beyond the equivalent of a few 0 levels. Students are being sent to Athens and Salonika and there is even one in London University. There is an English monk on Athos and numbers are rising again.
Athos, like the Orthodox in mainland Greece, has been unrelenting in its hostility to Rome. When the Pope and the late Patriarch Athenagoras met in Jerusalem a few years ago, some monasteries on Athos spent all night at prayer to ask God that nothing should come of the meeting. Rome and Constantinople have now lifted their mutual excommunications.
Were a developing Athos to lift the suffocating veil of its horror of Rome even a little, it would be more than we have so far dared to expect. Like England and Ireland, the Catholics and the Orthodox have been the worse divided by having so much in common and by having done so much to each other and by knowing only the worst of each other.
Looking at the liturgy
WE HAVE stripped the liturgy down to its bare essentials. We have paid a high price for in tellectual purity and emotional discipline. Which is to say that we have been given a new start, not that we now have a form of worship that will last for ever. That particular mistake has been made before.
But if we now have an intelligent and intelligible foundation, we are only human and naturally and rightly want more. We must be for ever dissatisfied with what we've gut. We still want the most marvellous happening we can humanly contrive to clothe the central event in our religion. We always have, and this hopeless effort has made the world even more beautiful.
But the liturgy is not composed by choreographers. True, there are elements of dance and drama in it. But it grows almost indiscernibly. Customs are adopted from different places and adapted for general or local use. It has always been so.
All over the Catholic church, people and priests are reaching for new ways to express the inexpressible. There is the offertory procession, the new lessons and the new ways of reading them, new modes for the giving out of Communion, new forms for the kiss of peace. new ways of handling cross and candles in fact a great deal more is unfolding than we arc aware of. Incense is seeping back into use. There arc new shapes for vestments, new ways of giving honour to the Sacrament, new ways of building altars and laying out churches. in fact, because we have been thrust into a state of furious, creative flux, parishes and priests have a New responsibility.
Things may be simpler than they were but if they arc done properly they are not any easier. The curate's bright idea about how to do the Pas sion this year may develop into a detail of a new and. as yet, indiscernible whole.
Restful, comforting, predictable, precisely ordained the new manner is not. If change is a condition of life, then we have an excellent chance of living. What will they think of next?
Birettas for sale
I HAVE never had occasion to visit an ecclesiastical tailor's shop. I believe that there is one in Rome called Gamarelli (?) which can kit out anything from a Maronite Cardinal to a Papal Protonotary Apostolic.
They have bolts of purple 'watered silk on their shelves. They are the equivalent of those military tailors in London who, with sealed lips, deck out all the presentable dictators in the world.
Where do you think that exemplar of the banality of evil, Idi Amin, gets his kit from'? The tailors in Kampala used to be Indian and not even they could manage the gold thread and red tabs proper to a Field Marshal.
In this country we have long had an ecclesiastical outfitter whose name is a household word to the faithful and their pastors. They have always practised a discreet ecumenism and can array a Benedictine monk as well as an Anglican Dean. A good cassock will set you back about SO, which should give you pause before remarking again about the soup stains on your parish priest. An Anglican friend tells me that recently in London this establishment displayed a box of birettas. The box was labelled, "Cheap To Clear".
Fading sound of church bells
THE CHURCH in Britain seems to have gone off bells in much the same way as it has gone off incense, portable thrones, long trains, massed reliquaries, gold mitres, indulgences, Rosary; sermon and Benediction, frock coats for clerical formal wear, the Asperges, embroidered banners carried in procession, Children of Mary, birettas, Guardian Angels and pictures of the 'Sacred Heart with red lights in front of them.
People complain about bells. Some have even brought lawsuits to silence new ones.
Some bells cannot be rung because they might bring the ageing towers down. New churches rarely have bells. The old awe they used to arouse, as if they were alive and praying, has gone.
Indeed there is a special blessing for bells which resembles a Baptism. They are even given names. Once when the late Cardinal Heenan was blessing a set of bells, he gave a swish of Holy Water and said: "I'll abolish this ceremony when I'm Pope". He was never a man for a symbol when a direct word would do.
But Oxford is even more beautiful because of its innumerable bells eloquently and in vain calling those overeducated agnostics to prayer. Sunday morning, the city is empty and full of sound. The only pedestrians are off to church or to chapel. Where I live there is a church tower each end of the town and both have fine sets of bells. Both have teams of bellringers and it depends which way the wind blows which Lower you hear. But I do not know of any Catholic church around here that has bells.
All this was occasioned by the news that St Mary's, Clapham, has had its bells blessed and re-hung after being thoroughly done over. It is the only Catholic church in London with a peal of eight bells. Cardinal Wiseman, a baroquely aristocratic figure who' presided over the restoration of the hierarchy, came to bless the first six of them in 1851. Two more were added in 1905.
They cost £4,000 to restore, and the parish has nearly but not quite found the money. And Clapham will be even more glorious for their sound, and its world-famous rail junction will be the more holy.