Page 12, 30th July 1999

30th July 1999
Page 12
Page 12, 30th July 1999 — Doing as the Romans do — and being proud of it

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Locations: Rome, Liverpool, OXFORD


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Doing as the Romans do — and being proud of it

Charterhouse Chronicle

Brian Brindley

MY OXFORD friend P J Kavanagh, the poet, was the son of Ted Kavanagh, the creator and script-writer of ITMA. ITMA (short for It's That Man Again an anti-Hitler joke) was the weekly halfhour comedy broadcast (wireless, of course, not television) that sustained the British during the war of 1939 to 1945. Its star was the Liverpool comedian Tommy Handley, but just as important was Jack Train, who supplied a huge cast of characters with funny voices.

The idea of a repeated catch-phrase didn't, of course, originate with ITMA, but it was very highly developed: much of each episode was devoted to zany characters saying what we had all been waiting for them to say. Some of those characters were immortal: Colonel Chinstrap, who could interpret every casual remark as an invitation to have another drink — his catch-phrase was "I don't mind if I do"; Mrs Mopp — hers was "Can I do you now, Sir?"; and a sinister German spy called Funf. I don't suppose that, 60 years on, anyone not brought up on ITMA would find it the least bit funny — but it helped to win the war.

Patrick (not to be confused with the other Patrick Kavanagh) married the beautiful Sally Philipps — soon, alas, to die untimely young. The wedding was at Brampton Oratory; in those days "mixed marriages" were not allowed to take place at High Altar, so the rite was oddly asymmetrical: Patrick and Sally were joined standing before the very beautiful altar and reredos in the right-hand transept.

For Sally was not a Catholic; her mother was the writer Rosamond Lehmann; her father was shortly to succeed to the peerage as Lord Milford, when he became the only communist member of the House of Lords. His communism was not very evident on that day: he wore a morning coat like every other man present (though I think I remember a red buttonhole) and the service was followed by a very swanky reception at 55 Park Lane.

Patrick's father, Ted, was a Catholic, a fiercely un-reconstructed Catholic of the days before Vatican II; I remember Patrick saying to me on one occasion: "If the Pope said black was white, my father would find some way of agreeing with him." At the marriage feast, Mr Kavanagh came up to me in the most affable manner, and said: "I understand you're a Catholic too." With all the brashness of my newly-acquired AngloCatholicism I replied: "Yes; but not a Roman Catholic." "Hrrmp", said Mr Kavanagh (or words to that effect), "I didn't know there was any other kind of Catholic" and stomped off crossly.

Looking back, I am not particularly proud of my part in that exchange: I hope I didn't spoil the whole of his son's wedding day for Mr Kavanagh; in any case, I now recognise that he was right: there isn't any other sort of Catholic.

I am rather sorry, all the same, that we are so shy about using the term "Roman Catholic" except when it comes to legal documents, and in describing our schools. (The sign-posts at Walsingham pointing to the Slipper Chapel used to carry a symbol that looked like a skull and cross-bones, in reality a tiara and crossed keys, to avoid identifying it as the "RC Shrine".) Of course, I am well aware that it was an unwanted title, bestowed on us by British parliament at the time of Emancipation, in the place of the offensive "Papist"; but it is, and ought to be, a title of great honour. It is because we are Roman that we are Catholics.

Romanity, is not of course, one of the Marks of the Church, and never can be: the Church is One, the Church is Holy, the Church is Catholic, the Church is Apostolic. But its Romanity is the guarantee of these Marks. We can tell the Church is One because it is Roman; that it is Catholic because it is Roman; that it is Apostolic because it is Roman; we ought to be able to tell that it is Holy because it is Roman, but that is where Rome has sometimes let us down. The Church has never been weaker than when the popes resided at Avignon, rather than teaching the Faith above the tombs of the Apostles.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) accepted the judgement of St Leo the Great (pope from 440 to 461) given in his Tome, with the words "Peter has spoken through Leo"; and no less a Doctor of the Church than St Augustine (354-430) had already given his opinion: "Roma locuta est, causa finita est" — "Rome has spoken, the case is settled."

It is the absence of Romanity that causes the non-Roman churches, Orthodox as well as Protestant, to go astray. This is particularly poignant in the case of the Church of England, a noble religious institution that aspires most earnestly to display the marks of the Church: anyone who watched the recent television documentaries on St Paul's Cathedral will know well that the Church of England is not One: those who claim that it is Catholic have to ignore large sections of it that are fiercely antiCatholic; those who long for it to be Apostolic must despair at its doctrinal levity and love of novelty; on its Holiness it would not be appropriate for me to comment.

I have been to Rome; I have kissed the hand of Paul VI and John Paul II, and exchanged words (albeit briefly) with both of them; I have seen them celebrating Mass above the very resting-place of St Peter. That is how I know where the true Faith is to be found, in the See and Bishop of Rome. So I am proud to call myself a Roman Catholic; Roma locuta est, causa finita est; Peter has spoken through John Paul.

• In Charterhouse Chronicle last week, the author wrote that Baroness Thatcher was the first woman apart from the Queen to become a member of the Order of the Garter, an accolade that in fact belongs to the Duchess of Norfolk. We would like to apologise for this oversight.

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