Cou nter poi nts ett once observed, always bringing out the worst in a god). But Figueres’s point was that Ixchel isn’t Western. She isn’t us, and thus she confirms us in our warm, fuzzy feeling of belonging to a sinning civilisation. As Marxism did. As the bohemians did. As the hippies did. As the campaign against nuclear power plants did. As every left-leaning campaign of the last 150 years has done. The morphology and the teleology—the shape and the goal—are always the same. I’ll abandon my scepticism the day climate change ceases to have the origins and solutions of every other progressive cause, the day it seems more than merely another vehicle for world government, social control and Western self-flagellation. Actually, I’d also like to see a data dump that doesn’t reveal scientific fraud at quite the level of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. And the movement’s celebrity supporters behaving as though they believed what they say, the contrails of their private jets no longer stretching off toward sunny Cancún. And all the dishonest language about it somehow eliminated.
A ban on invocations of Mayan jaguar goddesses seems a likely place to start.
Fr Kit’s magic kingdom By patrick heren
Father Kit Cunningham was an English Catholic priest who created, at St Etheldreda’s, Ely Place in the City of London, a sort of magic kingdom. There, beautiful liturgy combined with Chestertonian good fellowship to produce an engagement with the world rare in the modern Church.
Cunningham, who died in December aged 79, could be a robust, even pugnacious man whose ordination surprised many who knew him. A member of the Rosminian order, he had travelled a bit, spending a decade in Tanzania and some years as prison chaplain at Wandsworth and Brixton, before arriving at Ely Place, the Rosminians’ London base, in the late 1970s. This charming medieval chapel, off Holborn Circus, had few resident parishioners and offered few opportunities to an ambitious priest, especially in the drab and declining post-Conciliar Church.
The new rector saw that St Etheldreda’s history and location could, with energy and imagination, be turned to good effect. The building, originally the palace chapel of the bishops of Ely, was the only pre-Reformation London church in Catholic hands, having been purchased by the Rosminians in 1873. Fr Kit brought out the connection with penal times by placing in the nave eight striking statues of local Catholic martyrs, ranging from a Thames waterman to a lady-in-waiting.
Of traditional views but modern outlook, Cunningham saw that the English faithful—whose ancestors had died for the sake of hearing Mass—were starved of decent liturgy. He built up the choir to professional standards, and the Latin High Mass on Sunday attracted a following from across London. (It still does.) Part of the attraction was the preaching of Fr Jean CharlesRoux, the son of Pétain’s ambassador to the Vatican, who resided at the presbytery in Ely Place. CharlesRoux was an extreme traditionalist, but despite his dubious political antecedents, he was also learned and humorous. He and Cunningham made an extraordinary double act, the Frenchman’s pale elegance contrasting with the rector’s sturdy frame and ruddy complexion.
Fr Kit was equally concerned to meet the needs of office workers, with a weekday lunchtime Mass lasting only 20 minutes, an example of his practical understanding. He also set up a pantry in the church cloister to cater for their bodily needs. Assisted by the choir, Cunningham made Ely Place a prime Catholic wedding venue, often conducting two or more on summer Saturdays. He offered a full nuptial Mass, but he much preferred to use “the majestic cadences” of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer rather than the “pallid waffle” of the modern Catholic rite. The event was always genial as well as magnificent. Perhaps his greatest moment came just after 9/11, when he was due to marry two Americans working in the City whose families had been prevented from flying to London. He overcame the problem with the help of mobile phones patched through to several American cities, maintaining a running commentary throughout.
Convivial, sociable and immensely interested in the world, he entertained generously in his early Georgian presbytery. Fleet Street was on his doorstep, and many leading journalists, writers, artists and politicians enjoyed boisterous meals around a dining table which had belonged to Elgar.
Cunningham was not a company man—he had trenchant views on the hierarchy—but he was not disloyal. For 20 years, he produced voluntarily a monthly newspaper, the Westminster Record, which dealt accessibly and entertainingly with the affairs of the Archdiocese.
But it was in his dealings with the secular world that Fr Kit’s creative genius came to the fore. In the early 1980s he formed an alliance with Progressive Tours, the Communist Party’s holiday company, and embarked on a series of uproarious coach holidays, with friends and parishioners,
Standpoint Chestertonian: Fr Kit Cunningham in his parlour, seated beneath his own portrait around the Christian sites of Eastern Europe. A tour generally involved Fr Kit goading the communist authorities as well as visiting neglected churches.
Another unlikely joint venture was with the neighbouring Bleeding Heart, an upmarket restaurant which catered events in the Ely Place crypt hired out to the likes of Goldman Sachs. Inspired by the lines in Shakespeare’s Richard III addressed to the Bishop of Ely— “When I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there”—Cunningham browbeat the hardfaced commercial tenants of Ely Place into supporting a summer festival. The Strawberry Fayre ran for two decades and raised large sums for charity, recognised by the award of his MBE.
Always available to friend and stranger alike, Cunningham performed innumerable acts of kindness and mercy. Immensely human and fallible, he yet made the faith seem concrete. By example, argument and, above all, good humour, Fr Kit showed that when Jesus said he had come to call publicans and sinners, he meant it.
Nil desperandum By Peter Jones
Tom Tulliver is talking to his clever chum Philip Wakem: “I can’t think why anybody should learn Latin,” said Tom. “It’s no good.” “It’s part of the education of a gentleman,” said Philip. “All gentlemen learn to like the same things.” “What! Do you think Sir John Crake, the master of the harriers, knows Latin?” asked Tom. “He learned it as a boy, of course,” said Philip. “But I daresay he’s forgotten it.” (George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860)
By the time Eliot was writing, Latin had become a sort of bourgeois certificate of authenticity, a passport into the elite. Not that one actually needed to know any or even remember it: it was enough merely to have learnt it. The implication seemed to be that there was a sort of inherent moral and intellectual efficacy about the language, whether one became linguistically competent in it or not.
But by the 1950s, nothing seemed more to symbolise everything that was wrong with education than this “elitist” throwback to the “useless” past. WhenOxbridge finally abandoned Latin as a condition of entry in 1960s, schools fled from it in their hundreds. Now that only schools perceived to be serving the “elite” continued to teach it, the educational establishment could confidently dismiss Latin and Greek as the “elitist” subjects par excellence (irony intended).
No one pointed out the fallacy in all this: that if “elitist” schools are the only ones to teach a subject, is the subject to blame? How can an inanimate object like a school subject be elitist? Elitism is a function of humans. But it was an easy way for those whose mind was made up to dismiss Latin and Greek without having to think about it.
The world is now a different place. The generation of educationists who swallowed that bone-headed mantra is safely out of the way. People are now wondering why it is that private schools, nearly 70 per cent of which teach Classics (the languages, Ancient History and Classical Civilisation), as against 17 per cent of state secondaries, bother. Why do parents put up with it? Perhaps state schools are missing a trick.
Over the past ten years there has been a gradual return of common sense. A professional survey showed 47 per cent of state schools would be prepared, with help, to give Classics a try.
The charity “Classics for All” (www.classicsforall.org. uk) will be doing everything in its power to enable today’s pupils, in Bernard of Chartres’s famous words, to sit on the shoulders of giants.
A game of consequences Bynick spencer
Baroness Warnock has just written a book subtitled On Keeping Religion out of Politics. I work for a think-tank, Theos, that seeks to keep religion in politics. It was never going to be a meeting of minds.
It was, nevertheless, a civilised, thoughtful and illuminating encounter. We met in her House of Lords office and hovered around politics and religion for a while before honing in on the fault line: what is the right balance between principle and consequence in public morality? Religious dogmatists, the Baroness told me, care only about divinely-ordained principle.
Reasonable, secular-minded people, by contrast, weigh the consequences of policies and legislate accordingly. Put that way, who could doubt where any sane person should stand?
Yet, put that way it is misleading. Religious “dogmatists” are not just principle-led. Indeed, they obsess about the consequences of (what they perceive to be) immorality on society. Conversely, consequentialism is simply too pliable to see us through the moral maze. Does it not simply lead to moral relativism, I asked, the slippery slope towards anything goes? No, the Baroness told me, emphatically, it does not.
And then, towards the end of our hour together, as we attempted to ground our conversation in the concrete, the tone shifted. Was not the rise in abortions since 1967 highly suggestive of the likely consequences of passing legislation permitting assisted dying, I asked?
“But one wants to find out whether there’s been anything wrong with the number of abortions,” the Baroness replied. “I want to know whether the increase in abortions has been among people for whom an abortion was actually a benefit, a good.” Familiar with the argument that abortion was a necessary evil, I was unprepared for one that it was “actually…a good” for some people. I probed.
“There are thousands of girls who become pregnant and wouldn’t think of having an abortion because they’re not interested. They’ve got no future anyway and a future with a baby is to them better than a future without a baby. They’ve got someone to love, they’ve got someone who’ll love them.”
“Is that not a good thing?” I asked. “No, I think it’s a terrible thing,” she replied. “The joy of having a baby may wear off after it’s not a baby but a yobbish teenager, and we’ve all got to look after these persons. The social consequences are awful.”
“The social consequences…” Consequentialism is a slippery beast. So sensible, so reasonable, so scientific, it is, in reality, endlessly malleable, a leaf for every ideological wind that blows. Why did Spartans throw weakly babies off cliffs? Why did Romans “expose” infants (especially girls)? Why did intelligent people fight for the slave trade and against the Factory Acts? Because each believed that the consequences of letting weak or “unwanted” children live, or undermining the national interest, or interfering with free trade, would be deleterious for society. Perceived consequences have a habit of moulding themselves around our existing concepts of the good.
I had expected to get a well-thought-through defence of keeping religious principles out of political debate