CARDINAL Hume preached a magnificent sermon last Sunday at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. The occasion marked the beginning of the 250th anniversary celebrations of the conversions of Charles and John Wesley. It was the latter who founded the Methodist Church.
The main celebrations will be held during the week of May 22. For it was in May, 1738, that John Wesley became a changed man. His career up till then had already been dramatic. When rescued from a fire at the age of six he regarded himself as a "brand plucked from the burning" and destined for some momentous work.
Ordained in the Anglican Church in 1725, he and his brother went as missionaries to America in 1735. He became involved in a "romantic misunderstanding" on which hard facts are meagre. He thus left hurriedly though not with dishonour and on May 24, 1738, found himself at the house of John Bray in London's Little Britain. While listening to Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, as he afterwards recounted, "I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation."
An open invitation has been issued for attendance at a "Service of Praise and Preparation" at Methodist Central Hall on May 22 at 8.30 pm where choirs and the congregation will sing some of the Great Hymns of Methodism. The preacher will be Rev Dr John Tudor who delivered a memorable sermon at Westminster Cathedral about two years ago.
CAN a Pope resign? The question is discussed elsewhere in this issue, following on the macabre news that the only Pope definitely to have abdicated, Celestine V, has recently suffered the indignity of a grisly attack on his grave in Aquilia.
Before he was elected Pope nearly 25 years ago I started writing the life of John Baptist Montini. The publishers took a calculated risk and the proofs of the eventual paperback (published ten days later) were on my desk the day after his election.
In the middle seventies I spoke and was interviewed on this very question of whether the Pope might resign. There were no reasons for his doing so apart from speculation about his bad health. But recently it has been more specifically revealed that Paul VI did think seriously of abdicating. (See page 5).
Pope Paul had made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Pope Celestine V, who was elected Pope in 1294 but resigned five months later. It was this which sparked off rumours that Pope Montini might abdicate.
St Celestine is often cited as the only Pope in history to have resigned. He was the most famous but technically not the only one. He was elected much against his will to fill an embarrassing and troublesome vacancy at the Holy See which had lasted for more than two years.
Celestine had been known, and locally loved for nearly 60 years, as Peter of Murrone. He was a Benedictine anchorite who started a new order to become known as the Celestines. He was perhaps something like Padre Pio in our day. He had a vast following as what would now be called a holy "guru," and people revered him as a John the Baptist.
Almost dragged from his seclusion to be Pope at a moment of endlessly complicated intrigues within the Church, Peter submitted to being Pope but never got to Rome. He remained a tool of King Charles of Naples, 13 of whose appointees he made Cardinals. His ignorance of the evils of the world, and even of the Church, led him to resign in despair.
Saints and sinners
THE state of the Church in Celestine's day has made some people almost lose the faith. But for others it has been a consolation that the Church could survive the "evil state" encountered by Celestine and repeated often between the tenth and fifteenth centuries. Sinners at the centre of the church's affairs were greatly compensated for by saints elsewhere.
But great was Celestine's agony as to whether he could or should resign. So, to a lesser degree, was that of Paul VI. He was the first Pope to undergo surgery at the Vatican and his Assistant Secretary of State, Mgr Benelli, was aware of the Pope's worried dilemma at the time of the latter's 80th birthday on September 26, 1977, as stated elsewhere in this issue.
Further evidence has been added by Cardinal Silvio Oddi who visited Benelli's office on that 80th birthday of the Pope. Benelli, a shrewd and charming man who nearly became Pope himself, told Cardinal Oddi that the Pope was "tormented by the idea of abdication."
Oddi told Pope Paul that it would have been "inopportune" then, or at any time, for such action to be taken. Celestine received less disinterested advice from the ablest of his canonists, Benedetto Gaetani, who counselled against resignation but did not say it was impossible.
Gaetani subsequently became Pope as the formidable Boniface VIII and ordered Celestine to be imprisoned, ostensibly to avoid schism. It was called an "honourable" period of captivity, and Boniface went on to declare the whole world to be subject to the authority of the Papacy.
Free to leave
AS mentioned, however by our excellent new reporter from Rome, papal abdication, to be valid, must be totally free.
The only other reported, or alleged, papal abdications in history are shrouded in considerable mystery. Benedict IX, for example, abdicated no less than three times between 1032 and 1048. But practically everything about his life was irregular.
His first reign lasted until 1044 when he was deposed and an anti-Pope, Sylvester III, was set up by his opponents. He reigned again for a short time in 1045 and then gave the papal throne over to Gregory VI who reigned for a year. Emperor Henry III then intervened and had a German bishop elected Pope as Clement II.
He, too, reigned for a year. In 1047, Benedict regained the Papacy but was finally forced to resign in 1048. All other alleged papal abdications are associated with struggles between Popes and anti-Popes. The only case of fully voluntary abdication appears to have been that of the famous Celestine.
MISS Joan Bartlett OBE has, as must be widely known, done wonderful work for the elderly, particularly in Chelsea, Birmingham and Merseyside, during the last 40 years. She is particularly well known as the founder of the Service Houses, a vast new project whose extension was unveiled this week.
The scheme, backed by an Appeal for £2 million, aims for the erection of a new building on the site of the old Battersea General Hospital at the junction of Albert Bridge Road and Prince of Wales Drive.
The Appeal is in the hands of Help the Aged for the Servite Houses (125 Old Brompton Road, London SW7; Tel: 01-370 5466). Half the money has, I gather, already been raised, and the remainder should swiftly follow judging by the generosity of people nowadays and the known success of the Servite Houses.
The first one was founded by Joan Bartlett in the Boltons for elderly people made homeless by the war. The house was partly bought with a loan from the nearby Servite Friars, hence the name of the emergent charity.
It is an appropriate name, if you come to think of it. The Servite Order has been inspired by the concept of "community" ever since its foundation 850 years ago. It traces its origin to seven cloth merchants in Florence. In 1233 they decided to abandon their businesses and form a community of "active monks." They called themselves the Servants of Mary with a special devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows.
Joan Bartlett has asked people to write to her personally at the Servite Houses address given above. They can be assured of a prompt and grateful answer. This appeal huge though it is, will produce one of the most ambitious projects yet envisaged by Servite Houses. Its completion will see the provision of sheltered housing for the active elderly as well as a residential home for those whose old age has brought confusion.
Indeed we live in a world bedevilled by confusion but not, thanks to such people as Joan Barlett, by despair.
A NEW Italian institution for the display of Italian art and design has just opened in London. The Accademia Italiana has as its main purpose to present a continuous up-to-date image of the Italian artistic scene with the highest standards of scholarship and visual display.
The Accademia opened officially on Tuesday of this week in a particularly prestigious house in Princes Gate. It was formerly the home of a branch of the Rothschild family and of the Kennedys.
The opening exhibition (on Wednesday) was of Manzu sculptures, already seen by many as they were originally exhibited for the visit of the Italian President to Britain and shown in Edinburgh, Liverpool and Oxford.
Ursula Fleming, whose pain relief techniques I described last week, is contactable on 10-586 0856. A misprint reversed the final two digits last week, and caused a few irate 'phone calls.