27 August 2014

Francesco de Zurburan

... died 350 years ago today, and the always admirable Rorate blog has a good piece with two videos. I add:

(1) Z featured in the Sacred made real exhibition at the National Gallery in London 2009/10. So if you went to that and were wise enough to buy the Catalogue, today is a day to fish it out and revisit Z.
(2) That exhibition emphasised the significance of Z's early work as one who painted polychromatic wood-carvings.
(3) One of the videos provided by Rorate shows an American Art Historian talking about Z. What she ... like most Art Historians ... fails to understand or to know is that the Man from Nazareth is God. They refer to Him ... usually reverently ... as the [Most High] Son of God; but without realising the Truth of Nicea. This means they miss (for example) the point of S Gabriel kneeling before the Annunciate Virgin ... because what is in her womb is God.

Sub Conditione (1)

It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that certain Sacraments leave a mark (character) upon the soul which can never be erased  ... or duplicated. An apostate may renounce their baptism with all the formality they can devise .... but they are still baptised and, if they repent, will be absolved but never rebaptised. A disgraced priest may be laicised and forbidden even to dress as a priest, but he is still a priest and, in extreme circumstances, may absolve the dying. (Confirmation is the third such Sacrament.)

But what if there is some doubt about the validity of a Sacrament? That doubt needs to be removed; but simply to repeat the Sacrament would be sacrilege if the original administration of that Sacrament was, after all, valid. So the Sacrament is administered sub conditione; Si non es baptizatus, ego te baptizo etc..

I believe there are two areas where Conditional Administration ought to be part of the Church's normal practice. The first regards the baptism of converts. In a less ecumenical age, converts were always conditionally baptised in England in case their baptisms had not been adequately carried out in another ecclesial body. But nowadays, since there is no doubt that Anglican baptism, according to the rites authorised in the Church of England, is certainly valid, current Catholic praxis rightly accepts it.

But these assumptions are no longer safe. We hear of fashionable Anglican churches with fashionable, indeed episcopable, clergy where, contrary to the rules of the Church of England, baptism is invalidly done in the name of Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. It is probable that such aberrations will become more, not less, common (indeed, an Australian Catholic parish proved to have been doing exactly the same). The baptismal register of such churches will not record that this illegal and invalid formula was employed. Baptismal certificates may then subsequently be issued certifying that N or M was baptised "according to the rites of the Church of England", when this will be untrue.

Former Anglicans need no 'rebaptism' when there is evidence that the Sacrament was validly administered in accordance with the rites and ceremonies authorised in the Church of England. But I believe that a mere certificate of baptism is no longer adequate proof of this, and that when this is the only evidence provided, Baptism should be administered to a convert conditionally.

A safe rule of thumb would be to apply this praxis to Anglican baptisms done later than, say, 2000. Or 1990?

26 August 2014

Cardinal Hume

People criticised me for recently describing Cardinal Basil Hume as 'admirable'. They tell me that he was responsible for a collapse in English Catholicism. To which I would reply that post hoc ergo propter hoc is a flawed logical assumption. As well as a massively simplistic way of doing history.

I rather admired him and certainly found him easy to respect, as well as downright lovable. But I do think it can be argued that, faced with bullies, he lacked gumption. Two examples of which I had knowledge.

One Thursday, in Archbishop's House in the 1990s (how many readers remember those Irish Country Dancing Classes?), vested in his elderly black cardigan, he revealed to the assembled Anglican clergy that the Anglican episcopate had requested that, when Anglican clergy had entered the priesthood of the English Catholic Church, they should renounce their Church of England pension entitlements. A noisy rumble of anger echoed round the room. Basil looked awkward. "You would not be prepared to do this?", he nervously enquired. There was an even louder, even angrier, rumble. "Very well", he said. He did not look to me like a man who relished carrying this negative answer back to his Ecumenical Partners in Dialogue.

Not only his Anglican episcopal 'friends', but also his fellow Catholic bishops, were prepared to bully him. His first reaction to the attempt in the mid1990s to find a corporate solution for Anglican Catholics was to say "Perhaps this is the Conversion of England for which we have always prayed". First thoughts are so very often the best thoughts! But it wasn't long before this grace-filled openness to a movement of the Spirit was knocked out of him by some of his colleagues, and replaced by their cautious and hostile negativity. This, of course, is why Benedict XVI, when the same question arrived on his desk fifteen years later, decided to play his cards rather close to his chest. Cuius laus in aeternum manebit!

Basil Hume was kind and gentle and holy, a true Father Abbot. There must be thousands whom he helped to find their way to the Lord Jesus. May he rest in peace.

25 August 2014

More on the Formation of the Clergy

In Veterum sapientia, which S John XXIII signed on the High Altar of S Peter's in the presence of the body of Cardinals, that great Saint had insisted that the Latin language must remain central to the culture of Western Christianity. That Letter is not primarily about the language of worship; it desires Latin to remain a living vernacular for the clergy and not least for their formation; and it is explicitly based upon the belief that, by being latinate, a clerisy will have access to a continuity of culture. As C S Lewis's Devil Screwtape confessed, "Since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another". Both in secular culture and within the Church, there is a risk that the educated class will be cut off and imprisoned in the narrow confines of a particular culture - victims of its particular Zeitgeist. A literate clerisy is one that reads what other ages wrote, which means that it will at least be able to read Latin; and the sign of such a clerisy, in practical terms, will be that it can with ease read its Divine Office in Latin.

It is in this context that we must see the requirement of Vatican II (SC 101): "In accordance with the centuries-old tradition [saecularis traditio] of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in reciting the Divine Office". And it is highly significant that it goes on to make any use of the vernacular an exception which bishops can grant only on an individual basis. One might plausibly surmise that this exception may have been envisaged as useful in areas where resources for clerical formation were limited. I wonder how the Council Fathers - or a sizable proportion of them - might have reacted to the information that in less than a decade the bishops of Western Old Europe (whose culture both religious and secular had been based upon Latin for nearly two millennia, the continent of the great universities in which the civilisation of the Greek and Roman worlds had been transmitted) would regard both this conciliar mandate, and the directions of Optatam totius on seminary training, as an irrelevant dead letter.

Readers of this blog are probably familiar with the other prescriptions of Vatican II for the retention of Latin, and I will not labour the point. I emphasise that I am not basing an argument for the retention of a living Latin culture simply and nakedly upon the words of the Council. The auctoritas for that retention is very much more broadly based, as the Council Fathers themselves emphasised by calling it a saecularis traditio. The concilar mandate is merely an affirmation of the continuity and abiding prescriptiveness of that Tradition; the guarantee that in an age of revolutions the old securities are still in place. Without these words of the Council, it might have been plausibly argued that a radical cultural and intellectual shift had invalidated the previous assumptions. In view of the explicit orders of the Council, such a thesis can only be advanced as a deliberate repudiation of the explicit words of the Council ... as well as of the centuries preceding it. 

Recently, one of our English Catholic archbishops, in an engagingly matter-of-fact sort of way, explained why he would not require all his clergy to learn how to celebrate the Vetus Ordo. Among other (very understandable) reasons, he also gave this one: "You have to be practical as well. There is the Latin to learn ...". Really? What an interesting cat to let out of the bag! So, despite Canon 249, the clergy have not learned Latin as part of their seminary formation? One can hardly blame the present generation of English bishops for a problem which may have arisen more than half a century ago. But it is a problem which has not, I gather, entirely gone away. Surely the bishops have some say about the syllabuses taught in seminaries? Surely they have some responsibility for the formation of their own clergy? Are they happy that seminaries are run in a way which pays only very selective regard to the Magisterium of S John XXIII, so recently canonised, and of the Second Vatican Council (vide Optatam totius 13, on the role of Latin in seminary education)?

The admirable Cardinal Basil Hume, back in the 1990s, reminded Anglican enquirers (and the reminder rather upset some of us because we knew it already) that Catholicism was table d'hote, not a la carte. Surely this gives an ex-Anglican some right to wonder whether this principle applies also to those who run or supervise seminaries?


24 August 2014

S Bartholomew?? He could Mutually Enrich you

Those of you who keep by you for your enlightenment the Saint Lawrence Press Ordo Recitandi Officii Divini Sacrique peragendi (an admirable guide to the state of the Roman Rite before the process of reforms initiated by Pius XII got under way) will be aware that today ought to be the Feast of S Bartholomew. The 1962 rules reduced him to a Commemoration at Low Mass, and according to the post-Conciliar dispositions, the Apostle rests in complete oblivion for this year. In the Church of England, the observance of these Doubles of the Second Class on Green Sundays was never abolished; under Common Worship the festal option is the first possibility listed, although transference to Monday (or even a more convenient feria ... but never complete suppression) is sanctioned. Catholics who are enthusiastic ecumenical admirers of all things Anglican will be impressed by this. It is what is known as Mutual Enrichment.

There was a time when the Roman Calendar was encrusted with commemorations linked to a particular Sunday in a particular month (and comparatively minor festivals could displace a Sunday). This meant that the old 'green' propers from the ancient Roman Sacramentaries continued to be printed but were very rarely heard. Adrian Fortescue wrote "The liturgical student cannot but regret that we so seldom use the old offices which are the most characteristic, the most Roman in our rite, of which many go back to the Gelasian or even Leonine book. And merely from the aesthetic point of view there can be no doubt that the old propers are more beautiful than modern compositions ... We obey the authority of the Church, of course, always. But it is not forbidden to hope for such a pope again as Benedict XIV who will give us back more of our old Roman Calendar."

In a footnote Fortescue added: "Since this was written the hope has already been in great part fulfilled [by S Pius X in 1911]". It is difficult not to point out that Fortescue's fulfilled hope was to be rubbished only seventy years later when the post-Conciliar reforms again robbed priest and people of "the old offices ... the most Roman in our rite". And it is difficult not thus to adapt his words: "It is not forbidden to hope for such a pope as Benedict XIV or Benedict XVI who will give us back our old Roman propers."

I agree with Fortescue's judgement. I would not wish to see, in the Vetus Ordo, the old 'green' propers submerged again. But there is a great deal to be said for the arrangements left in place by S Pius X, whereby Doubles of the Second Class do supersede a Green Sunday. This means that Sundays-only worshippers would, once every six years, be exposed to these festivals. Would that really be such a terrible thing? Many of them are, of course, Days of Devotion; that is to say, days which were originally of obligation but which have had the obligation suppressed (Common Worship includes a broadly identical list  of "Festivals which are not usually displaced"). The Novus Ordo lists many of them, including S Bartholomew, as days on which the Roman Canon, the First Eucharistic Prayer, should for preference be used.

A final footnote. According to the pre-1939 rules, the Sunday Mass would not be entirely lost when S Bartholomew got his once-every-six-years showing. It would be commemorated by having its Collect, Secret (=Prayer over the Offerings) and Post-communion, read after those of the Sunday. And the Sunday Gospel would be read in place of the "Last Gospel" from S John at the end of Mass.

23 August 2014

Do Moslems and Christians worship the same God? The Council says ...

The Conciliar decree Lumen gentium does not say that Moslems have the faith of Abraham; it calls them fidem Abrahae se tenere profitentes ['they claim to ...']. Which is certainly true; Ibrahim is a very common Islamic name. The Conciliar text (signed, incidentally, by Archbishop Lefebvre) then does indeed go on to say that nobiscum Deum adorant unicum, misericordem, homines die novissimo iudicaturum. I take this to be an indication of an overlap between the attributes of the Gods of Islam and Christianity. Nostra aetate (3) I take to be engaging in this same process of analysis. If the Council had wished to make and impose a formal doctrinal statement of the identity of the God whom Christians worship, and the object of the Islamic cult, I presume that it would have needed to so clearly, unequivocally, and unambiguously. The Ecclesia docens has never left her dogmata definitive tenenda lurking in a clause within a statement uttered obiterDeum cui Musulmani* cultum exhibent haec Sacrosancta Oecumenica Synodus sollemniter profitetur eundem esse quem Ecclesia Catholica adorat. Something similar to this would have needed to be said. The Conciliar Fathers could not, of course, say anything remotely like that, because we worship One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, which Moslems fiercely deny as blasphemous. By identifying common features of predication the Council implicitly assumes recognition of features of non-identity.

The Council, addressing the circumstances of its time, looked optimistically at what Islam and the true Faith could be said to hold in common. A different context could be said to require a different emphasis: of what radically divides two such different religions. This does not imply that the Council was wrong to say what it said, when it said it.
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*Musulmani in Lumen gentium; they have metamorphosed into Muslimi in Nostra aetate.

I am reprinting a relevant earlier piece of mine.

"They have uncrowned Him" (2) False Religions?

I here reprint a piece from last March, because the topic it deals with ... Do Christians and Moslems worship the same God? ... seems to be topical. I was reviewing a volume by Archbishop Lefebvre.
Continuing to consider this book, from my own background in Catholic Anglicanism, I discern in it quite a whiff of that admirable Anglican Ulsterman, C S Lewis. Not that Archbishop Lefebvre, I am sure, will have read him; but because Christian thinkers often, laudably, converge. Take a particular tricky theological problem: explaining how souls rooted in a false religion may find their way to God, without asserting - or leading others to think you mean - that all religions are more or less as good as each other: 'syncretism' or 'indifferentism'. Mgr Lefebvre writes " ... in the false religions, certain souls can be oriented towards God; but this is because they do not attach themselves to the errors of their religion! It is not through their religion that these souls turn towards God, but in spite of it! Therefore, the respect that is owed to these souls would not imply that respect is owed to their religion". And: " ... these religions [he has just mentioned Islam and Hinduism] can keep some sound elements, signs of natural religion, natural occasions for salvation; even preserve some remainders of the primitive revelation (God, the fall, a salvation), hidden supernatural values which the grace of God could use in order to kindle in some people the flame of a dawning faith. But none of these values belongs in its own right to these false religions ... The wholesome elements that can subsist still belong by right to the sole true religion, that of the Catholic Church; and it is this one alone that can act through them"*.

I think this is admirably expressed, and it reminds me strongly of the penultimate chapter in Lewis's The Last Battle. A young Calormene, brought up in the worship of the false god Tash, meets the Lion Aslan, the Christ-figure in Lewis's rich narrative. "Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days, and not him. ... But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, Lord, is it then true ... that thou and Tash art one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. ... Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I also said (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek".

Whatever in the cult of Tash predisposed the young man to seek the Glorious One still belongs by right to the sole true religion, that of the Catholic Church; it does not belong of right to the cult of Tash. It is not through what is proper to the cult of Tash that he comes to Christ: that is to say, through its errors, but in spite of it. Because Tash and Aslan are opposites.

I add here (August 23) that Nostra aetate  does not say that we respect the Moslem religion; but Moslems. (Ecclesia cum aestimatione quoque Muslimos respicit.) When S John Paul II kissed a Quran which had been given to him, he was, manifestly, showing respect and affection for the donatio and the donantes, not for the donum. 

To continue.
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*I think it is clear that Mgr Lefebvre is has here in mind the teaching of Unitatis redintegratio para 4. " ... haec omnia, quae a Christo proveniunt et ad Ipsum conducunt, ad unicam Christi Ecclesiam iure pertinent"  where iure was added to the text on the orders of Pope Paul VI.

22 August 2014

KYRIA KAI DESPOZOUSA

... the Virgin is Lady according to her worthiness, as being Mistress of all, since it was in virginity that she conceives and divinely gives birth to the One who by nature is Master of All. And of course she is still Lady as not only free from slavery, and possessed of divine lordship, but also as fount and root of the freedom of the race, and especially after the ineffable and joyful childbearing; for the woman who is yoked to a man is lorded rather than lady, and especially after after her sorrowful and painful childbearing according to the curse made against Eve ... the Virginmother, freeing the human race from this curse, receives joy and blessing from the angel; for he comes in and says: 'Hail Graced One, the Lord is with you, you are blessed among women'. The archangel is not proclaiming the future in saying 'The Lord is with you', but announcing what unseeing he sees at this very moment fulfilled. And knowing her to be the place of divine and human charisms, and adorned with all the charisms of the divine Spirit, truly he proclaims her Graced.

A little gem for you from the great and untranslatable hesychast father S Gregory Palamas. Sometimes I fantasise about the ecumenical day when Rome might feel able to add him to the Calendare Romanum Generale and to proclaim him a Doctor of the Church.

By the way, today, old Octave Day of the Assumption, is regarded by Dom Gueranger as quintessentially the day when we think of the Mother of God as Queen; among other quotations from the great masters of Christian spirituality, he gives us the passage from S Bernardine of Sienna which so enrages Marian minimalists: that even God obeys Mary. The post-Conciliar placing of Maria Regina on this day makes more obvious sense than the (Pius XII) Feast of her Immaculate Heart. Let nobody accuse me of being an unthinking critic of all post-Conciliar liturgical ideas. Although the Feast of the Immaculate Heart does bear with it notions of Divine Victory: her Immaculate Heart will triumph.

Today Blessed John Henry Newman began the wearing of the Miraculous Medal (the one which I carry was given to me at Lanherne  by Mother Rosa of the Franciscans of the Immaculate). And, centuries before, one of England's greatest bishops, John Grandisson of Exeter, chose to be enthroned this day and to order our Lady's Octave Day to be kept henceforth for ever as a feast of the highest rank. Furthermore, even though it was not the day of his death, he disposed that tomorrow be kept as his obit. I am sure that all right-thinking clerics will wish to remember him at Mass tomorrow. Grandisson was a Sound Bloke. Friend and protege of John XXII, he reacted to the threat of a Metropolitan Visitation by having the Archbishop of Canterbury repelled by his private army. Let nobody slander the Avignon Papacy in my hearing.

A very Anglican Patrimony Day. Perhaps the Ordinariate should bring in the cause for Grandisson's Beatification, as well as including the Miraculous Medal in our Mission Statement.

21 August 2014

Aurea Aetas Clericorum

Walking last week in the Sussex countryside, we came across a memorial tablet in Bignor Church to a former Rector, Thomas Sefton. It revealed that he lived his life omnibus Iacobi optimis et Caroli annis, pace nondum laesa, and went on to describe those best years of James VI and I, and of blessed Charles Stuart, as the Golden Age of the Clergy. Not a trillion miles from the truth: King James made clear that the only problem he had with a Papacy was in any claimed power to depose monarchs; and, in the 1630s, the Bishop of Chichester, Richard Montagu (a patristic scholar and formerly Vicar of Petworth), assured the Nuncio that he was a papalist.

The old description came back to me of the Diocese of Chichester as the golden Indian Summer of the Church of England. However, I was brought back to earth the following day by looking at the service list in Chichester Cathedral and realising that most of the communion services there are presided over by a woman minister. "The vivifying principle of truth, the shadow of Peter, the grace of the Redeemer, left it". We got out only just in time, didn't we? Right at the very last possible moment, when the gubernator Petrinus had guided his barque non sine periculo so close to the sinking ship that we were able to step from one deck to the other, our suitcases in our hands, without even getting our feet wet. What a gentle, generous, holy and humble old man he is. God bless him, always.

The memorial in Bignor Church went on with its curriculum vitae: Parson Sefton was a Lancastrian, mammas dein suxit Aeneanasenses. Words of comment, worthy of this spectacular and untranslatable literary trope, entirely fail me! Two of Sefton's sons went abroad during the Great Rebellion; the third lari litans, O felix fatum, tranquillus moritur senex agricola. That last sentence could almost have been written by Q Horatius Flaccus, couldn't it? Clearly there were porci de grege Epicuri alive and well in the 1630s in the wooded dells of the Sussex Weald.


19 August 2014

Priestly Formation

A good week down in Sussex last week; on Thursday celebrating with Senior Granddaughter her spiffingly good A-level results, which confirmed the place she has at Oxford for October; and on Friday meeting with Junior Grandson in the Palace Gardens in Chichester. He is a splendid little fellow with an entrancing smile ... except when his brows contracted because of suspicions that his Grandpapa had designs upon his miniature Bugatti. He is quite fluent at linguistic exercises such as the construction of sentences syntactically linking (dittography?) the terms Grandpapa and naughty. Naturally, I hope that he might turn out to be a classicist, or at least a pedant.

Nostalgia struck as I glanced over the Palace wall to the buildings of the former Theological College, which flourished back in the days ... such happy days ... when the Church of England still existed and was famed for the intellectual quality of her clergy (nowadays her degenerate successor organisation trains its ministers largely at non-residential regional Ministerial Training Courses, run jointly with the Methodists ... I remember a day when Bishop John Richards and I had met one of these gentry and 'JR' had some things to say about his total ignorance of Scripture and, indeed, of anything).

Those Theological Colleges were largely one of the fruits of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England (Chichester was founded by Charles Marriott). In the spirit of the Counter-Reformation Tridentine reforms, they were very often founded in cathedral closes ... Chichester or Wells or Salisbury or Lincoln ... not simply so that the seminarians could benefit from the influence and teaching of erudite canons residentiary, but so that they might be part of the episcopal familia. They remind me of Archbishop Michael Ramsay's admirable definition of classical Anglican Theology as Divinity done within the sound of church bells. Their closure (do chickens come before eggs?) betokened the collapse of that classical Anglicanism which it is the duty of the Ordinariates to recover and to repatriate into Catholic Unity.

It would be wonderful if our Catholic Bishops, or some of them, were to rebegin clerical formation within their own households. How such a reform would rejoice the priestly hearts of Cardinal Reginald Pole and S Charles Borromeo! It could profitably be combined with the medieval custom whereby religious orders maintained houses of study in Oxford. This could help in the long labour of rebuilding a clerical culture in accordance with the mind and legislation of the Church. I am thinking here not least of Veterum Sapientia (S John XXIII) and of the provisions of canon 249 ... provisions which one of our archbishops recently implied have been comprehensively ignored.

13 August 2014

Nostra antonomaica Domina

When the Lufwaffe bombed Exeter Cathedral (tit-for-tat: the RAF had bombed a nice little medieval University city in Germany ... and the Rhodes Scholars in the German government wouldn't allow Oxford to get the retaliation ... such are the legends) a discovery was made amidst the rubble: of wax ex voto offerings which had been hidden behind a stone above the tomb of Exeter's great and holy Bishop Edmund Lacey (it was rather a shrine: his progress towards canonisation was of course halted by the Reformation). Presumably they were hidden away when the Protestant Dean Simon Heynes vandalised the tomb. (He was not a popular dean and his new-fangled religion was as unpopular in the Close as it was in the City.)

Lacey was an intellectual who was not above putting his head into intellectual hornets' nests. On August 15 1441 he preached to the English Chapter of the of the Domicans in the Exeter Blackfriars at a time when the Preachers were still far from enthusiastic about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; his action in having his sermon transcribed into his register has no parallel that I know of in Medieval episcopal registers ... (would anyone like to comment on that?). Lacey pulled no punches: So those who, with their rash and reprobate opinion struggle to besmirch her Conception, let them shut their mouths; and those who struggle to put blemishes on her way of life, let them put a sock in it; and those who are unwilling to exalt the outcome of her Assumption, let them get lost and stay lost (perpetuo delitescant).

But let me tell you his argument for the Assumption. The Philosopher of the Ethics proves that it is necessary for there to be some end to human affairs, namely immortality and eternity. To which our antonomaic Lady is deservedly assumed by the Apostle, Romans 2, 'Glory , honour and peace to the one who does good'.

So you bung Aristotle and S Paul together and invoke the principle of antonomasia, which I trust is still taught in the Fundamental Theology courses in our seminaries, and Bob's your Uncle.

Antonomaica Domina in caelum gloriose Assumpta, ora pro nobis.

11 August 2014

Caserta and Collegiality

There appears to be a story among Vaticanologists that the Bishop of Rome ... as the Sovereign Pontiff likes to call himself ... planned to visit non-Catholics within the diocese of Caserta and to do this without any collegial reference to to his Venerable Brother the Bishop of Caserta; and that it was a week before he could be persuaded to nuance his plans.

This story, like so many stories about our Holy Father, may very well be badly garbled or even totally untrue. I hope it is. Because ...

... can anybody name another pontificate within the last two millennia in which such a thing could plausibly even have been imagined as happening? Pope S Damasus, for example, going privately to Milan, without informing S Ambrose, to tell the Arians how sorry he was about their ill-treatment? S Celestine I creeping into Hippo to cosy up to the Donatists while S Augustine slept unaware?

Will the SSPX now stop banging endlessly on about how Collegiality is one of the worst errors of the Council? They have ... if these improbable stories do have any truth in them ... apparently convinced the Pope himself.