Rumour of an impostor at the Vatican
By PETER HEBBLETHWAITE
You DON'T HAVE to believe me, but I tidied my desk the other day and came across some "unusual items."
There was some astonis information about Sir Edwin Lutyens's grandiose plans for Liverpool cathedral. It was the triumphalist dream of Archbishop Richard Downey.
His projected cathedral would have reached a height of 472 feet compared with Sir Giles Scott's 308 feet for the Anglican cathedral along Hope Street. It had no less than 110 side-altars (needed in the days before concelebration). Its narthex would have contained a post-office, two choir schools and a police station. Just as well it wasn't completed. Paddy's wigwam, roof and all, will do nicely.
Amidst the desk fall-out was a sermon on "The Repentance of Judas" by Edward Mevrick Gouldbourn DD preached at St Giles, Oxford, on Wednesday, February 24, 1858. This was the feast of St Matthias, the man who replaced Judas in the college of the Apostles. "The lot," you may recall, "fell upon Matthias."
This sermon was described by Sir Owen Chadwick as "one of the great utterances of a Christian preacher in the Victorian age." It is certainly eloquent. Its title does not indicate, as one might think, a rehabilitation of Judas (such as Victor Hugo was attempting at about the same date) but a distinction between true and false repentance. Judas, on this account, was "disappointed with himself." But that is not repentance, merely "pride broken in its own conceit, and put thoroughly out of humour with itself." It is not so much a "distrust of self" but a very different thing, "a disgust with self."
At this date Gouldbourn was chaplain to the bishop of Oxford, "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce ("Not apes but angels"). He went on to become headmaster of Rugby School. Which is why I have a copy of this famous sermon. I gave a lecture there last year to the Gouldburn Society and the sermon was my reward. I have a connection with the previous two items thus: I lived in a Lutyens building, Campion Hall, Oxford, for three years, and St Giles is just across the street from Blackfriars where I go to Mass.
My link with the third item will be obvious. An American lady from West Hartford, Connecticut informed me that Pope Paul VI had been drugged and rendered comatose by a trio of prelates Benelli, Casaroli and Villot in the early 1970s. This incapacitated Paul VI obviously could not leave his room in the Vatican. So the powerhungry trio got a priest, an ex-actor, to impersonate him. Plastic surgery was performed so that he looked the part. The nose of the double was appropriately bent do they mean Paul VI was Jewish? and nobody noticed the deception. When Paul VI died in 1978 the unfortunate double was "eliminated". Of all the daft theories I have heard, this out-Yallops the lot. The man who died at 9:41 pm on the feast of the Transfiguration was undoubtedly the Giovanni Battista Montini whose life I traced from his birth.The source of this nonsense? Allegedly exorcisms in Switzerland over a period of three years (1975-78). "Various demons," says my informant, "were forced to tell what was going on at the Vatican during this period." Trust the demons.
The same source alleges that Our Lady detests Communion in the hand and lay eucharistic ministers. Enough: the faith should not be made risible.
To RESTORE MY sanity I went to Paris for a long week-end and stayed with the Jesuits at 15 Rue Monsieur. It is now the residence of those who teach at the Institut
Catholique and edit the prestigious Recherches de Sciences Religieuses. It would not be true to speak of a decline of French theology. But certainly, since the events of May 1968, when ,as has been said, "structuralism died on the barricades," French theology has not succeeded in crossing the Channel.
As it was a pleasure to meet Joseph Moignt SJ who finally, at the age of 75, has published the book of his Iife. Called Celui qui Venait de Dieu (He Who Came from God) it is a complete christology as well as Moignt's spiritual autobiography. The first half he admits, was written in his early days as professor at the Jesuit faculty of Fourvieres in Lyons, then reeling from the blows of Humani Generis. At this stage he treated the early Councils of the Church in quasi-Hegelian fashion, demonstrating their inner necessity and coherence. Then" in 1968 he moved to Paris and soon found himself teaching lay people. They made other demands. They wanted to know how all this lofty stuff fitted in with their own experience and with the "human science" which expressed it.
The nearest parish church to Rue Monsieur is St Francois Xavier. It has a sidechapel dedicated to "the saints of Europe." Perhaps you did not know that St George was declared patron of England in the 18th century by Pope Benedict XIV and "belongs partly to legend but remains for the English a national hero." Does he? St Patrick, batting for Ireland, "prepared for his mission in France" at Lerins and Auxerre. The Portuguese have nothing much to offer apart from St Anthony of Padua, born in Lisbon, and Fatima, which doesn't quite fit.
Italy scores well with St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Siena. St Stanislaw of Krakow, representing Poland, studied at the university of Paris, Germany was converted by the Englishman St Boniface. But he is balanced by Hildergard of Bingen, poet, musician, early feminist.
A map of St Joan of Arc's journeys around France resembled the itinerary of the Tour de France. Brave but unsuccessful efforts are made to include "ex-Yugoslavia" and the Ukraine. The obvious patron of Lithuania, the last European nation to be converted, St Casimir, is missed. But the real discovery was the reproduction of a fresco from San Pietro at Assisi: it depicts St Benedict, father of Western monasticism, between Ss Cyril and Methodius, apostles of the Balkans and inventors of, among other things, the Cyrillic alphabet.
No sooner did John Paul II become Pope, than he made all three co-equal patrons of Europe. Benedict had had the job since 1966. There was no suggestion that he had fallen down on the job. But obviously he needed a bit of help in Central Europe.