FATHER (or Professor or Doctor) Hans Ming was in
London last week getting the sort of reception that no theologians get in our time. It may have happened in medieval Oxford or Paris, but not now.
His book "Being a Christian" is an assured success in the Western World. Journalists have queued to interview him. Ile nipped over to Ireland to talk in St Patrick's Cathedral, which is one of the two Church of Ireland cathedrals in Dublin.
Three thousand people, many of them nuns and priests, turned out to stand and listen to him talk for an hour and a half.
They listened in rapt silence, and the Irish are not meant to be adventurous in theology since their way of thinking about God and His Church was if St Bedc is to believed -rudely and rather unfairly quashed at the Synod of Whitby (663). More than that, he appeared on the Irish television that night in the break in a popular programme of Irish song and dancing. He talked about God, and it was latish at night.
But then it is my theory based on experience in West Cork that the Irish cannot bring themselves to let go of a day, and only reluctantly force themselves to start a new one. Which is to say that they go to bed late and get up late.
Anyway, the next day on his way back to London he was recognised with respect again and again. No one heaved even a metaphorical brick at him for not toeing the party line. And no book on religion has created such a stir in my time.
It is not a conformist book. But I think it pins power and influence because it is written from inside the Church. It compels respect, even among those who hate the Church and who fear disturbers of that ancient peace which never really existed.
Defence of Lefebvre
True he has had his ups and downs with the Vatican, and refused to attend a hearing of complaints against his writing because the cornplaints were not particularised. He even defended Archbishop Lefebvre for a time because he thought the traditionalist Archbishop was being unfairly treated and had a right to a lair hearing. There is much in his writing to alarm the conventional Catholic. (And there is nothing wrong with being conventional, and alarm is a perfectly respectable emotion).
He is off-hand about some 01 the early Councils of the Church and would, for example, allow priests to decide on whether they should marry and lay people to decide
about the pill. doesn't go much for infallibility.
Last week Bishop Butler reviewed this, the latest of his books, with deep respect though not total agreement. Ile described him as a "cheeky schoolboy" for his in• corrigible and almost reflex reaction against authority, But no one is now trying to silence him.
To meet, he is surprising. He is a fiercely fit-looking man of 44, with wiry hair. He is stocky and quick and light on his feet, physically and intellectually. He might be a senior ski instructor. Of course he does not dress as a priest. He looks, too, like a young Vv illi Brandt.
Ile is not a fluent English speaker and pauses sometimes for the obvious and ordinary words rather than for the technical ones. He is exciting to listen to, and not without humour.
He looks and behaves as if he enjoys life and his rare measure of success. He is a tremendous worker. He is very German. The book is easy and exciting to read. It makes no bones about the fact that he believes the only sensible and logical thing to do is to stay a Christian.
And in case you are confused, Hans Kangsays that he stands in the middle between the Theology of the Establishmeni on the right and the Theology of Revolution on the lefi
Team up in church porch
I HEARD this week of one of those Western Scottish Isles which are Catholic because they had powerful protection, the Reformation never got to them and because they are by nature hard to bend.
It appears that_the football team is, 01 course, Catnonc and the parish priest is, of course, its manager. Team announcements arc put up in the church porch.
Some visitors recently went to Mass there. The place was crowded. One of the reasons became apparent. The celebrant pinned up the team list for the next fixture after Mass, and no one left until they had read it. Which only goes to show that our priests are still, thank God, reasonably wily, that there are more ways of corraling a Catholic than snaking a stick at him, and that the Mammon of Iniquity whatever that may he can be made to work for the young men of the Church in a most edifying manner.
Money left for Second Coming
IF YOU READ any newspapers you will have seen that a poor old man died last week and left his money to God. This was Mr Ernest Digweed of Portsmouth.
Mr Digwecd was eccentric. He lived in a tent in his front room. He never answered his front door. He wore an old leather flying helmet when he went out.
He was shabby and dirty. Children mocked him and he used to threaten them with a walking stick. He had been a schoolmaster
Sweden raises a religious ban
and so he disliked children. No one thought that he had any money. In fact he left E26,107 plus interest. He left it on condition that it is claimed within 80 years and that the claimant must be recognised as the Messiah by the Public Trustee. Otherwise Caesar will get the lot, Caesar being the Crown or whit' ever may by then have taken its place.
Apart from any other consideration, the Second Coming means the end of the world, which will surely entail inflation and devaluation. A Portsmouth solicitor, acting for the Public Trustee, was quoted as saying. "We will be taking counsel's advice on this." Or he might consult a sound, old-fashioned priest.
I remember a case in Texas when' someone failed to collect on his insurance. It was decided that the destruction of his home had been due to an "Act of God". The plaintiff thought that the Churches might pay as God's representatives on earth. This idea met with no sort of welcome.
The court, embarrassed. decided that God was not a legal entity and this despite the fact that the money they used it Was even then the best in the world had "In God we Trust" written on it.
FROM TIME to time civilised countries find slightly shaming anomalies built into their system. We have the identification of the Monarchy with Protestantism. In Switzerland they had a few years ago, te repeal a law that forbade the Jesuits to work there. In fact they were there, though in lay clothes long before that mode became fashionable among the priesthood.
Now the non-Socialist Government of Sweden has got Parliament
to lift the national ban on religiouf houses. Formerly the government had to give its leave before a new monastry or convent could be set up in the country.
And the government had to give its consent before anyone under the age of 18 could take even temporary vows. The whole business slightly recalls Britain's official and suspicious attitude to new public houses.
In fact these were part of a 1951 law, Until now there has been only one cloistered convent in Sweden, and that is at Carmel near Helsingborg. Its foundation from Belgium caused a good deal of controversy before its dedication in 1963.
The religious history of Scandinavia is very different from that of the fervid South. They took to Christianity late, but fairly easily. The patron of Norway is St Olaf, a treacherous king famed for the number of pagans he put to the sword. Whenever Vikings were defeated. they regularly submitted to the rigours of Baptism some of the less successful of them many tinies.
Those who settled in Britain and Ireland soon made their peace with
the Church. But when the Reformation came to Scandinavia, it was almost as if it walked in and sat down.
No fuss over niceties
It started with reform-minded scholars who had been educated in Northern Germany, but they did not particularly seek a break with Rome. The Lutheranism that quietly took over did not seem, either in its teaching or liturgy or vestments, very different from the old order. They did not fuss over niceties. And no great families kept the Faith.
No blood was spilt in Denmark and the few monks there were allowed to live out their lives in their monasteries but not accept any recruits. They had never done much teaching, and their good works were taken over by the State.
There was some persecution in Sweden, and the monks and priests were driven away about 1537. In what is now Norway, many of the farmers resented the new teaching which came mostly from Denmark. A sort of crypto-Catholicism survived for about 100 years. In north Norway there remains a strong evangelical feeling, and they are said to provide more missionaries per capita than any other nation. They offer the benighted a pretty daunting form of Christianity.
Iceland was slightly different. Came the Reformation, they killed quite a lot of those who wanted to cling to the old ways. But then the Icelanders, despite their stolid ways, can feel very strongly about such things as cod and religion.
They must be the only nation in the world which voted to turn Christian. They took a vote in their Assembly, the grandmother of all Parliaments. about the year 1000 and decided to be Christian.
The Scandinavians have a long tradition of leaving religion to the professionals. It was the function of the priests, pagan or Christian, to do the praying for the laity. .This does not mean they do not believe in a non-dogmatic sort of way.
True, the Catholic Church in Scandinavia does not seem to be making any very noticeable progression. But Christians, here as elsewhere, reassure each other with statements that the young have the feeling that superior powers are at work and are eagerly seeking an explanation.
1 obviousl:/ cannot be right, but it does rather seem to me as if some nations are more prone to the sebtleties and emotions of religion than others. Anyway, it is nice to know that the Swedes can seek enlightenment in the old way if they want to.
Pope St Gregory and preaching
DO YOU FIND it difficult to preach ? Do you find it difficult to listen? Do you approve of a sermon written down and read?
Listen to Pope St Gregory, the first of that name, surnamed the Great and one of the supremely sensible and effective characters of history. He might almost have been English.
Preaching on the Feast of the Resurrection in Rome he said: "It has been my custom, beloved brethren, to speak to you on many of the Gospel readings by means of a sermon I had already dictated for you."
Clearly he got someone else to read it to the congregation, and this was a sermon not an encyclical. He complained of the "weakness of my throat". Not all men of God can sound like the Rev Ian Paisley. He probably employed brass-lunged deacons.
He went on: "I notice some among you listen somewhat indifferently. So, contrary to my usual practice. I shall for the future make the effort during the sacred solemnities of the Mass to explain the Gospel, not through a sermon I have dictated, but by speaking directly to you myself "For the words which are spoken directly to sluggish souls awaken them more readily than a sermon that is read to them." He must have written that one, for it reads 'oast elegantly and there was no shorthand.
In fact the Pope was wisely adjusting himself to his congregation.
No one should really lay down the law about sermons. They merely have to succeed.
Any style will do as long as it suits, first, the congregation and, second, the priest. And if the priest appears to believe that helping the Third World is now the First Com mandment, you must, I suppose, endure it. And if he gets political, you must not cry "Pshaw!" in the Assembly.
But the sermon is now meant to be as important as it was in Pope Gregory's time, and that means sound instruction in a riveting form and instruction of a sort from which charity and a desire for reform and a passion for justice and tolerance and generosity of spirit will naturally flow.
The instruction can glitter, or clang like iron: but teach it must.
And if the teaching is good, the people will listen. Pope Gregory anyway never stopped teaching.