NEW YEAR'S DAY programme on the Coronation raised some strange questions. I had been in Korea during the original production. The scale, the length, the size, the disciplined splendour and some of the details came as a mild surprise.
There was the obvious reaction of: "My, how we've aged as a nation in 25 years!" We were involved then in a war and a huge guerrilla action, and yet we could still field a military host.
Such an assembly of Commonwealth heads of government can never be repeated. How odd to give Dr Malan a carriage! And there was the boundless optimism of it all, the destruction of which was at least not the work of the people.
Most who found time to watch would have had the same sort of reactions. But there were certain things that stuck in the mind.
There were no Catholic representatives. We expect now at least a bishop, if not an Apostolic Delegate, there on far lesser occasions than this. The premier Duke and the premier Baron were there ex officio.
At the Coronation of George VI, there was argument as to whether it was right for a Catholic Duke of Norfolk to take part. It was permitted, but I cannot recall what he did during the Eucharistic part. The Pope's representative did not enter the Abbey but waited in the temporary porch.
Cardinal next time?
Next time I suspect there will he a Cardinal in his fullest fig in the sanctuary, representing the largest sect in these islands under the Crown. And they'll probably have to find him some dignified thing to do. I take it for granted that by then we shall at least tolerate official attendance at, if not participation in, the Eucharists of others.
And then there was Archbishop Fisher's celebration of the Eucharist. I would imagine that in the changing circumstances of the time another Archbishop will prefer not to celebrate at an altar so loaded with gold chargers and dishes that it looked like the sideboard of a portly Victorian alderman who wanted to give evidence of his affluence.
Then there was the climax of the Eucharist. This, sound and sight, was banished from the screen.' Another time the Archbishop is likely to he in close-up for the Consecration.
There was the Coronation Oath. Now, any Catholic who writes or talks about historical or inter-faith matters is certain to elicit hurt protests if he used
the word "Protestant". Sometimes no other generic word will do. One cannot list the lot, But there was the Queen swearing to maintain the "reformed Protestant Religion". So I shall be less disturbed by such protests in future and, anyway, we never chose to be called Roman Catholics! it began as a comparatively recent rudeness: "Protestant" is old and respectful and self-chosen, and men were once martyred under its significance,
Part Byzantine, part Western
It was fascinating to see the Queen being robed in the ecclesiastical vestments that were part Byzantine and part Western. People used to argue whether there was not an element of priesthood in kingship. Hence the anointing.
People also once commented on the fact that the old Byzantine imperial and sacred jewels were being changed for glass replicas. That seemed a sure sign of irreversible decay. So we must keep beady eyes on the crown.
But I think that on another time a coronation will he far more a gesture of prayer and less of a beautiful relic of the realities of medieval domestic power-politics. There will be less emphasis/on the dignity of hereditary and military rank and more on the sacred nature of the office at the centre: more prayer, fewer trumpets, less noise, more intercession.
The Rev Sidney Smith once said — he would say anything for a laugh — that his idea of heaven was eating Oa, de foie Bras to the sound of trumpets.
Both are delicious and both cloy fairly soon. 1 began to wish they would not blast away at God quite so much. I think that the taste for such sounds has changed.
Still it was fascinating. Britain may not be able to run motor car factories, but we can beat the world at symbolic ceremony. And we are just as good at it now as then.
Investing in a relic
I HAVE just received a charming letter from an old lady in Ireland who can laugh at death. She was referring to a passing reference to that sin of Simony which entails the making of profit out of spiritual matters.
There are not many chances of committing it these days though the pre-Reformation Church was riddled with cheerful and prosperous simoniacs.
Anyway, she says that she has a long walk to daily Mass and she over the age of 90! (What sort of parish that does not arrange a lift for such a lady?)
So she will be canonised, she thinks, "as easy as that".
She goes on: "So I asked my parish priest if it would be Simony to sell my relics in advance, seeing the devaluation of money. He said that at least I could have them ready. 'Cut up an old hat and stick bits on cardboard' ".
They sound a practical and light-hearted pair, and since the lady wrote about other serious things such as her conviction that the spiritual facts and evidence for the existence of St Philomena were overwhelming, I don't think she is anything but some good person close to the age of 90.
But she and the parish priest have overlooked one important fact. The fragments of the Holy Hat that she will have for sale will be only secondary relics. You can still get "holy pictures" of St Therese of Lisieux with a minute fragment of her habit attached under the plastic.
No, what is wanted, I am afraid, in the world of relics are detached human fragments. And I am sure the parish priest did not intend her to start selling her fingers though she might mortgage them. And even that would he one hundred per cent copper-bottomed Simony.
Traffic now less macabre
But then the traffic in relics has grown less macabre. There used to he a crypt in a Franciscan chapel in Rome. It consisted of a row of chapels whose
walls were decorated with the hones of long-dead friars.
In fact the chapels had a terrible beauty. The bones were arranged in graceful and courtly rococo patterns. There were whole skeletons at prayer in tattered habits.
The place was light-hearted, made by an artist of a specialised sort. (In the 18th century the Anglo-Irish used to make "bone houses" in their ornamental gardens. Their walls consisted of close packed mortared ..butchers' bones. I read that the effect was silvery and charming, but the structures did not last well).
Anyway, the mortuary crypt is closed now. We are per now about everything ecept death.
When they brought the marvellously preserved body of St Francis Xavier to the Portuguese colony province of Goa some time after his death in an island near Hong Kong, his body was exposed for veneration.
A pious lady of excellent birth bent and kissed his feet and, in doing so, bit off a toe. A modern dentist would describe her "bite" as excellent. This appeared in a local guide-book I bought there many years ago.
It mentioned that the woman's name was Castro.
Some time ago I was in Lisbon and talking about Xavier and Goa. Someone said that a toe of the great missionary was in the possession of a Portuguese family. I asked if the name was Castro. It was.
There are many stories of pious butchery following the death of saints. Kings used to have different parts of their bodies buried in various holy places. On the whole it was an ugly practice and I would not advise my correspondent to try it, especially prematurely. All this preoccupation with one's later end! It's enough to put a clean-living young priest with a social conscience off religion.
Value of Vatican diplomacy
PUBLISHERS occasionally send out books to journalists. it's usually the literary equivalent of casting your bread on the water. I have just received a real block-buster. I do not intend to review it — that is being done elsewhere.
It is a 550-page history, review and description of Papal diplomacy. It is called, "The I loly See and the International Order" and it is by H. E. Cardinale.
A large number of Catholics probably object even to the idea of a Papal Diplomatic Corps, though Pope John was a member of it.
He had a diplomatic disaster there. He arranged approval of a marriage between the Orthodox King of Bulgaria and an Italian Catholic princess. The Catholicism of the new Queen was guaranteed. Almost at once she was forced to conform to Orthodoxy.
He was sent as Delegate to Turkey, which was then regarded by the Vatican as a punishment post. But he did all right, ending facing the problems of collaborating bishops and worker-priests in Paris. Come to think of it, all the recent Popes spent the larger part of their working life as diplomats. It is not easy to evaluate the value of Vatican diplomacy. I met, long ago, a Nuncio in Manila who had been in Delhi during the war.
As an Italian he was under some stern, though civil, British supervision. He told me he never had the slightest difficulty in getting his secret reports back to Rome but that, unfortunately, they usually proved to be wrong.
Very Italian and gentle
H. E. Cardinale, was of course, the Apostolic Delegate in London, He was a very Italian person, gentle to talk to, with elaborate manners. He began his education in the United States.
In Britain, he seemed to fall in love with the place and even enjoyed the formidable Aldwych Farce villa on the edge of Wimbledon Common which is the Delegate's eccentric residence.
He is now in Brussels, and Brussels of course meant promotion. There, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, he is automatically head of the Diplomatic Corps.
It was Cardinal Consalvi who attended the Vienna Congress for the Pope and the Papal States, and with Wellington and Metternich and other worthies of that Summit, his portrait by Lawrence hangs in the great Waterloo Room in Windsor
Anyway they agreed, to avoid disputes, that the Apostolic Nuncio should head the Diplomatic Corps everywhere where the Pope had a diplomatic representation. This means — not in Britain or the United States, where the Delegate is not "recognised" that it was and is his duty to convey the greetings of all the diplomats to the Head of State on his birthday.
Hence the shaming pictures of a Cardinal congratulating Hitler and the intriguing ones of French Presidents who tended once to he anti-clerical political
hacks exercising their right to hand the scarlet biretta to the Nuncio when he was made a Cardinal.
A world emollient
But in matters of charity and justice and in the interest of their own institutions, the Vatican has found it expedient to have diplomacy, and diplomacy is one of the world's emollients.
Nationals themselves are even worse than the sum of the individuals who compose them. A nation has a conscience which can be stifled at the wave of a flag or the bellow of a slogan. It is incapable of sustained gratitude. It is brutal rather than fastidious. It equates morality with the national interest. Nationalism is its ultimate expression and the ultimate vulgarity. The United Nations is an admirable mock-up of this morality at work. Professional diplomacy can put a slender bridle on this potentially dangerous menagerie. It is certainly never in control of the situation — but it helps. I think the Vatican is wise still to be part of the game.
And it is a very odd game whose rules are called protocol. Archbishop Cardinale is good on these. I once dined — not with him — as a fellow guest alongside an Italian bishop. The bishop first objected to the fact that he was not at the head of the table. And then, when he was persuaded into his place, insisted on a chair with arms.
That's Court etiquette, I suppose, which is first cousin to protocol. He also suspected 1 lived in sin because, though my wife wore a wedding ring, I did not. Foreigners!
Even this bishop did not go the whole hog, however. If displeased with his placement, if he were not put high enough in the pecking order, it used to be customary for the offended grandee to turn his plate upside down and refuse the first Hard luck if it were But the Archbishop is not concerned with that sort of nonsense. I have oily read small parts of his book as yet, but found myself enthralled in another world. I don't think I should have done well in it.
Scarf orphaned at Farm Street
LIKE a starving bird fluttering at a closed window, I have been beating my wings against the defences of Farm Street without success. In fact 1 telephoned once.
Someone has my handknitted, fashionably elongated, wine-red scarf. I left it under my pew during Fr D'Arcy's funeral. Who is it that gets all the countless things that I lose?
I get no help from St Antony, even though my second name is his. I like to think that somewhere there is a nice warm Jesuit. But I fear that it has gone further afield than that.
Role of the Holy Sea
The old idea of the freedom of the seas is dying. You will have noticed that a lot of nations starting with Peru, 1 think, now claim a 200-mile limit to their territorial waters in place of a cannon shot from the shore, which used to be the old and accepted maritime boundary.
Nov. national territorial waters have been vastly extended and are going to be guarded as closely as one's own back garden. It was not always so.
The United States went to war with Britain in 1812 because the British, locked in war with Napoleonic France, had claimed and practised the right to stop ships at sea and look for their own deserters, and even impress the odd American citizen or two to swell their dwindling and exhausted crews.
In fact the American ships of war were a considerable argument for not too strict a discipline. They were more comfortable and less strictly run. Asa result they were better-run, and tended to beat the British in those fearful pound-himto-death, ship to ship battles. They were also better designed.
It also meant that anyone could arrest a pirate almost anywhere and anyone could hang him anywhere. The idea was that he was "hostis humani generis". This was one of the basic reasons why Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped front the Argentine and hanged in Israel. The act was of doubtful legality.
With all the nations claiming territorial waters of vast extent, it's going to be harder now to capture pirates. I don't know why aeroplane hijackers do not come under this ancient concept in international law, but then these contemporary pirates usually make for, well, nonconformist countries.
A Law of the Sea conference has been going on and off since 1973 with a notable lack of success in the face of the innate selfishness of nations. Among the other notable maritime nations taking part are Austria and Switzerland and the Central African Republic.
The Holy See, which is not a member of the United Nations but is in several of its agencies, is also a member. Alas, there are now no papal galleys to put out against the infidel or any other nation that had gone too far against the Temporal Power or had the money and the credentials to hire them.
But it is still able to cause trouble. It tends to be listed in the 156 nations in attendance as the "Holy Sea", which conjures up visions of some sacred stretch of water upon which it is death even for Russians to venture.
Anyway it confuses an already chaotic situation, but pleasantly so. If you don't believe this, ask the Duke of Edinburgh. He started the story.