IIAPPY BIRTHDAY to Cardinal Koenig who will be 80 tomorrow. Until only a few weeks ago, people in Austria, looking forward to his birthday, were asking "Will the great man still be Archbishop of Vienna?" Why should he not, against present custom, hold that office for the rest of his life?
It is true that the recentlyarrived Nuncio has said that one of his first jobs will be to help find a suitable successor for this remarkable octogenarian. I would advise him to give up.
Another question being asked is "what would Koenig do if he had to retire?" The implication that he has many active years potentially ahead of him means that he could even be Pope in the event of the sudden demise of the present incumbent.
The ten languages he actually speaks fluently — as opposed to merely mouthing manfully on special occasions — makes him a better linguist than almost any Pope in history. (The supposed linguistic talent of recent Popes has been greatly exaggerated.)
Sadly, however, his epitaph will probably have to be that coined for him at a recent party in his honour by the President of Austria: Pontifex Austriacus.
At the same time, few if any western Cardinals have so strikingly "straddled" the EastWest divide to the extent to which has Cardinal Koenig.
It was he who was the gobetween in facilitating Cardinal Mindszenty's departure from Hungary to spend his last days in Austria, thus greatly easing East-West relations both as regards Church and State.
IT would, in fact, have been an imaginative ecumenical gesture had the Austrian Cardinal been able to attend the birthday celebrations last week of another major churchman, albeit with a different background. I refer to the ceremonial marking in Soviet Russia of the 75th birthday of the redoubtable Patriarch Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias.
The elaborate ceremonies took place in a beautiful 14th century convent just outside Moscow known as Trinity-St Sergius Lavra.
This convent has been a frequent venue for interreligious peace meetings, played up in the eastern press, unheard of in the western.
The Patriarch's Orthodox subjects number 70 million who, under the 1936 constitution (article 124) enjoy "liberty of conscience" and "freedom to hold religious services." (The constitution also grants "freedom to engage in antireligious propaganda.") Representatives of all the principal religions in the USSR attended the service, including Catholics, Moslems and Jews. (There are nearly five million Catholics in Russia, concentrated mostly in Lithuania, western Ukraine and western Byelorussia.) Also present at the ceremony was Konstantin Kharchev, Chairman of the Council for Religious Affairs under the Soviet Council of Ministers. Tensions within the Orthodox church as to support for the State are strongly reminiscent of divisions in the Catholic Church in Germany after the decision to "make peace" with Hitler by means of a Concordat.
Some look further back still, to the days of Napoleon, Charlmagne and even Constantine, when trying inevitably in vain — to assess the ultimate price to he paid for Church cooperation with the civil powers.
Patriarch Pimen's birthday message was: "We know that the present-day tense international situation requires that the Christians join efforts with the followers of other religions and all people of goodwill to preserve the sacred gift of life and create conditions on earth that are worthy of man."
SO much for Church and State
in Soviet Russia. What about Church and State in Great Britain? I was conscious of its outward might when attending last week's gigantic ecumenical service in Westminster Abbey to give thanks for 400 years of City government in Westminster.
There were moments as impressive as some I remember from the Coronation. But instead of the rows of gorgeously robed and coroneted peers and peeresses, there were representatives of every walk of life in Westminster including the Government, Civil Service, the City, Armed Services and the leading institutions.
Above all, of course, there were the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who graciously "received" us afterwards at a magnificent reception in College Garden.
The site of the Abbey is of course Thorney Isle whither came the Christians in the eighth century and the true founder of the great church, Edward the Confessor, in the eleventh. No place is more magical in the whole Abbey than his shrine, of 'whose silent, immured presence you are conscious even at moments of unihibited pageantry.
More than one sermon has been preached hereabouts on the "regality of decay" symbolised by the Confessor's tomb, and the words:
Here are sands, ignoble things. Drop'l from the ruined sides of Kings.
Last week's service was distinctly more triumphalist and the sun, which still never sets on British land round the world, shone with fierce brightness on a basically "homely" event such, as we always seem to say, "could only happen in England."
REVERTING to the question of the extent of religious freedom in Eastern Europe, stories vary enormously_ To avoid the possible disadvantages of Stateregistered baptism, some parents make long journeys to have their children christened in churches which keep no records.
Nearer to home, there are those who prefer to travel far afield, for other reasons, in order to fulfil their religious observances. A well known Dublin politician, having gone to confession in the proCathedral, was awarded the Stations of the Cross as his penance. Looking round the church, he realised he would be the object of too many knowing eyes if he performed his penance then and there.
Some days later, when passing a country church, he decided to to in and carry out his delayed penance. The church was dark and unfamiliar, but the minister — for such he was — duly started on his penitential journey. After a few minutes an old lady in black materialised as if from nowhere to ask "Are Ye's doin' the Shtations, mishter?"
"Yes," he replied crossly. "Well," says she, "Ye's goin' round the wrong way."
THE HUNGARIAN Post Office is honouring the great 17th century Hungarian Cardinal Peter Pazmany by publishing a special stamp. The occasion is the 350th anniversary of Budapest University which was founded by Pazmany in 1635. (Its ultimate origin was in Nagyszombat, which is today's Czechoslovakia.) Pazmany's parents were Calvinist nobles but did not stop their son becoming a Catholic at the age of 13 in 1583. Four years later he joined the Jesuits.
The church reforms laid the foundations for the later Catholic re-blossoming in Hungary which country he brought closer to Austria. He helped to get Ferdinand II on to the throne and to gain religious freedom for Protestants. In Vienna, he founded the Pazmaneum College, a seminary still in existence where the reluctant exile Cardinal Mindszenty spent the last years of his life.
FOUNTAINS Abbey in North Yorkshire will be the scene on Sunday week for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Mt St Bernard. How appropriate that today's most flourishing Cistercian community in Britain should be so celebrating in what is one of the most complete and perhaps the most spectacular of all Britain's monastic ruins.
It was established by the Cistercians exactly 850 years ago and its rapid rise to wealth enabled it to flower into almost incredible architecturdl magnificence.
After the war, the well known Catholic painter Simon Elwes had a dream: it was to restore Fountains to something of its pristine glory so as to become a place of pilgrimage and other activity for people of all faiths as a war memorial dedicated to the cause of peace.
His enthusiasm was not unfortunately matched by the willingness of fellow Christians to dig into their pockets.
THE PERSISTENT rumour that all Catholic priests ordained to the episcopacy must take a secret oath against supporting women for the priesthood only needs official denial from the Congregation for Bishops to gain even wider credence. The rumour is more rife in America. There, it will be remembered, the former campaign against Modernism was complicated by its partial confusion with "Americanism." I doubt if it need be taken too seriously.
THE REV Mark Honeyball of Bath Abbey asks if Fr Henri de Lubac requested dispensation from episcopal ordination when becoming a Cardinal in February, 1983. It is quite true; he did. And Pope John Paul acceded to his request despite the ruling of John XXIII. Fr de Lubac had told the Pope that at 86 he was not capable of administering the sacraments of confirmation and holy orders and of running a diocese. After he had received his Hat, he remarked "I do not really know what service I can render as a Cardinal, but it was nice to see Rome again."