Thursday, 27 October 2011

This place is holy ... and a great mystery. Chavagnes Consecration.

We just celebrated the 145th anniversary of the consecration of our College Chapel (on 24th October 1866). In our altar there are enclosed the relics of Saints Gaudentius and Columbinus. Gaudentius was Bishop of Brescia, Italy from 387 to around 410 AD. He was a good friend of St John Chrysostom, was consecrated by St Ambrose, and was known as a vigorous opponent of heresy. Columbinus (not Columbanus, though perhaps they are related!) was a little known Irish monk and bishop of the seventh century who was active in this part of France.

Here are our boys singing Locus iste sanctus est by Bruckner. One or two mistakes (some swooping, and yours truly a bit too loud in the basses), but quite hauntingly beautiful, I hope you'll agree.

The Return of the Young Fogey?

I remember when I was a teenager my sister gave me a delightful Christmas present, The Young Fogey Handbook. It came out at the same time as the even more successful Sloane Handbook, about 25 years ago.  The essence of the Young Fogey was that he was satorially and culturally reactionary, seeking a kind of donnish gentility frozen in the period 1930-1950. He sought to relive Brideshead Revisted, Miss Marple, and Jeeves and Wooster all at once. The Handbook made a lot of Betjeman, AN Wilson, Charles Moore etc. It was an entertaining read, but I remember feeling at the time that I would never quite cut the mustard sartorially. I owned a pair of jeans.

But it seems to me that the Fogey that began all fogies was JRR Tolkien. His disapproval of anything modern, his love of tweed and pipes, and his fondness for medieval religion make him an obvious member of the group. When shown a tape-recorder by one of his undergraduates he consented to use it, but first exorcised it by reciting a Pater Noster in old High German into it. Nearly knocked off his feet by a motorcycle on one occasion, he cursed: 'the blasted orcs'.

There was a circle of such types at Oxford in the 1950s, all living in Tolkien's shadow. One of them was CS Lewis, whom Tolkien brought back to Christianity.

In an article written in 2003 Harry Mount suggested that the Fogey was a spent force. The Young Fogey, he posited, was a kind of counter-cultural protester. Society had begun to accept as respectable many of the opinions that the YF was fighting for: feminism was beginning to run out of steam, Latin Masses became all the rage, Prince Charles won universal support against hideous modern architecture, gentlemen's clubs became popular again ... What was left for the YF to stand up against?

It's an interesting analysis. In France the same has happened to the 'Tradi', who had a strong identity in the 1980s and 90s. The young men tried to look like soliders of the foreign legion and, when not in army surplus khaki, would usually wear navy blue, making them look like 1950s boy scouts; and most of them were scouts, in fact.  They liked especially to wear the chèche, a long desert scarf adopted by the Foreign Legion. The young women were like British Sloanes, favouring cashmere sweaters and strings of pearls.

Now the tradis have become assimilated into the 'Génération Benôit XVI', wearing more or less the same clothes as everyone else, with the same hairstyles. The girls are even wearing trousers again. The political unity of the tradis (in, or on the fringes of, the Front National) has evaporated. The religious aspirations of the same group have become absorbed into the mainstream of Catholicism.

Recently Harry Mount wrote another article suggesting that YFs were back in vogue again, due to the wave of reaction engulfing us after the election of  a new government (run by public schoolboys), the Royal Wedding (between, we are led to believe, two YFs of a sort) and the moral outcry engendered by the recent riots.

Certainly the UK has had an interesting year: the Pope's visit, the Royal Wedding and then the Queen in Ireland. Lots of media attention focussing on the power of tradition as a force for healing and unity; even if before each of them happened we were told they would be disastrous in some way.

I think I would date the turn of the tide to the time when fox hunting was high on the political agenda. It was banned in the end, but somehow continues all the same, with more participants than ever. But I remember going along, with over half a million others, to tell the government where to get off in the 'Countryside March'. It was in 2002. 

London was awash with a sea of hearty tweed and green wellies, and a mix of public school and thick country accents. As we surged down down Pall Mall, tooting hunting horns, most on foot, some on horseback, some leading their cows (!), the cheers arose from the windows of many of the offices where people had come in on a Saturday to get a good view of the march and have a party. The balconies of the Naval and Military Club were full of champagne-coiffing supporters laughing and waving.  There was a counter demonstration, near St James' Palace, of less than 20 people. They looked completely destraught and I could not help feeling sorry for them. They were, as far as I could see, treated with politeness by the marchers. There was very little on the news about it all, but at the end of that day, the streets of London were full of heartiness.

I thought at the time that it was a pity that these folks had only mobilised for something as trivial as fox-hunting. Would they be prepared to do the same in defence of traditional values in general? Perhaps. Certainly, since that time it has become increasingly respectable to seek answers to modern problems in the 'old ways' ... the government's current efforts to bring back grammar schools by the back door are a case in point; even Labour seems to be giving in on that one.

Is the YF gone for good? Yes, I think he is. But a more grown-up cross between the Sloane and the YF is emerging. There are many young people now who are resolutely conservative in their ideas, intelligent, hard-working and favourable towards Christianity (despite all the bad press the Church and the churches get). The weak leadership from Christian leaders in the UK means that this general conservative feeling could go in a number of different directions. In continental Europe many politicans, and then church leaders, have more or less decided to join the conservative backlash, which has had the effect of toning it down but also making it a force to be reckoned with. In Britain this seems to be happening too, even if the Church leaders are lagging far behind. Interesting times ...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Ferdi: what's in a name?

Well, in an idle moment (it's half term) I thought I'd check out some other namesakes around the globe.

First off, there's Ferdi Tayfur, a celebrated arabesque singer from Turkey (see above).  Very entertaining.

Then in 2009 Ferdi Berisa (left), a young chef from Montenegro, won 300,000 Euros in the Italian version of Big Brother.

Ferdi Serim is a prominent American educationalist.

And Chez Ferdi (32 rue Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, near the Louvre) is also the best place to get in a burger in Paris, apparently. Looks tasty, doesn't it?

Hmm; enough silliness.

Dan Brown: Angel or Demon?

Saw the film of Angels and Demons yesterday, in a moment of weakness. Trashy, perhaps, but well-made. The scenes inside the virtual Sistine Chapel and St Peter's were very convincing, even if there were some annoying minor mistakes relating to Catholic practices at various points (there always are in this kind of film).

Whilst in the Da Vinci Code Dan Brown rehashed some awful untruths about St Mary Magadelene (which are still confusing the young, one discovers in catechism classes ...) and had fun misrepresenting Opus Dei, Angels and Demons is really quite kind to the Church, does not misrepresent any Catholic doctrines, and very definitely suggests that God protects it from harm, in the most surprising ways. It also suggests that the Church is, in fact, in step with the modern world and has a key role to play in helping man understand how to proceed ethically in the progress of scientific research.

Tom Hanks plays a university professor: an apologetic agnostic perhaps based on the person of the author, eventually dressed in clerical dress, minus the plastic collar. He acts as God's Angel, sent to deliver the Church.

One disarming, but quite meaningful element in the film (I have not read the book, though I have a confiscated one in my office) is that all the scary traditionalists with harsh foreign accents, in clerical dress, or in the Swiss guard, are actually the good guys.

Now I've almost spoiled the story, so I'll say no more.

Monday, 24 October 2011

French universities at bottom of the heap ...

Mitterand receives a French honorary degree.
A French parent told me today about an article she had been reading about universities. The gist was this: American universities are rated at the top, UK ones at number 2 and French universities come in 51st in the international ranking.

Now, I wonder whether that has something to do with the stranglehold of state control on the management of Higher Education in France, even down to the political and ideological control of the content of degree programmes.

It is significant that the university that has come top in the Times annual survey of student satisfaction every year for at least the last six or seven years is the University of Buckingham, the institution with the lowest level of government interference in Britain.

Here come the French ...
Edinburgh is free of charge for French
students, but not for Englishmen!
We are pushing our older French boys here to apply to the better UK universities and the US Ivy League. Of particular interest for our continental European boys here are the Scottish universities which, because of a quirk of European legislation, are completely free of charge for continental Europeans and Scots, but up to £9,000 a year for the English! One of our French boys has applied to Cambridge this year, but might well opt for Edinburgh instead even if gets an offer from Cambridge, simply because of the potential saving due to the tuition fees issue.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Hello, my heart!

Here is a something to raise your spirits: a rendition of de Lassus' Bonjour, mon coeur, by staff, friends and alumni of Chavagnes, during a performance of Molière's Les Femmes Savantes, June 2011, at the College. Enjoy.

Bonjour, mon coeur,  Bonjour, ma douce vie, 
Bonjour, mon oeil, Bonjour, ma chère amie!
Hé! Bonjour, ma toute belle, Ma mignardise.
Bonjour, mes délices, mon amour,
Mon doux printemps, ma douce fleur nouvelle.
Mon doux plaisir, ma douce colombelle,
Mon passereau, ma gentille tourterelle!
Bonjour, ma douce rebelle.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Cardinal Vaughan High School and the freedom of the Church

Apparently, according to the press, Archbishop Vincent Nichols has given into parental pressure over the appointment of a new Head for the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial High School. Some are hailing it as a victory for orthodox Catholicism and parent power.

This time the parents were probably right and the Bishop was probably wrong. And the parents won. But what happens when the Bishop is right? It looks like he will have to give in to the parents every time; which rather defeats the object of having bishops as guardians of the faith. It seems to be a case of hard cases not making good law.

Reliance on the state to protect religious faith and values is a big mistake in the long run. Perhaps this time they have got it right, but in general i would say, with the good book: "Put not your trust in princes".

Last year an orthodox Jewish school, funded by the state, was found to be acting illegally by barring a child from a Reform Jewish background from attending the school. The court accepted that only Jewish children should be allowed in the school, but saw fit to rule on the particular level of Jewishness of the boy concerned, over-ruling the theological expertise of the orthodox rabbis. One wonders who gave the English courts the power to run heresy trials. Henry VIII, I suppose.

In English Catholic schools, it seems, the level of Catholic practice or 'Catholicity' of parents is measured (by the schools) to give the families a score that determines if their children will get free places in state-funded Catholic education. Middle class parents, it is alleged, are more likely to go to Church regularly, and thereby pass the Catholicity tests. So Catholic state schools fill up with the children of such people, and become almost as posh as private schools (and therefore even more attractive to middle class families). The Oratory School in London (the choice of Mr and Mrs Tony Blair) is one such school.

Catholic dioceses and central government over the last few years have taken turns in trying to break this cycle and make Catholic schools open to all comers, especially to those whose absence from church schools so troubles the consciences of the Catholic education establishment and of certain politicians.

Wouldn't it be much simpler for the bishops to preach the Gospel more effectively to the poor families they want to get into the schools? Isn't that their job, after all? That way these folks would go to Mass more often and pass all the bureaucratic tests, thereby qualifying for Catholic school places. While they are at it, the bishops could conduct a root and branch reform of their education offices, and remove from post anyone found to be undermining the Church’s objectives. That is certainly within their theological and legal remit. The schools then could be left alone to do their jobs properly and - if that really happened - everyone would be congratulating the bishops too.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Former boy bishop makes the deadline

Frayed nerves on Saturday night, trying to make sure we met the deadline for Oxbridge UCAS applications. It creeps up every October before you know it. Only one candidate this year, a Mathematician called Paul. He has applied to Trinity College, Cambridge and some other strong Maths locations: Warwick, Imperial, Bristol and Edinburgh. He is only 15 (just had his bithday), but is applying for deferred entry for 2013, so he will be just a couple of weeks off 17 when he finally goes to university. He already has his Maths A-level with an A* and is cracking on with Further Maths this year. Clever lad ... I am very keen to see what the universities will make of him.

Here he is (above) as our boy bishop (one of our odd medieval traditions) in December 2009. We shall miss him, when he moves on: he's the best private tutor of Maths we have!