Magazine article The Spectator

Walking among the Mountains of God and Listening to Their Voices

Magazine article The Spectator

Walking among the Mountains of God and Listening to Their Voices

Article excerpt

You can't beat mountains for turning your thoughts to God. It is a fact that those lucky enough to dwell among them are invariably religious folk. I have just spent a week walking high among the Swiss Alps, notching up over a hundred miles and goodness knows how many weary metres of altitude. Watching sun and cloud continually shifting the contours of the summits, creating majestic dramas of shadow and brilliance, then shrouding all in angry swirls of mist, drum rolls of thunder adding Wagnerian notes of menace - I am reminded by all these sights and sounds of the being who orchestrates them. As I walk, I thank God for beauty, and I count my blessings: good health in my seventieth year, a large, loved and loving family, many friends, a job which gives me endless pleasure, above all the gift of faith. To be confident in the existence of a deity who embodies benevolent power, who sees all and ensures that justice will be done to each one of us in the end: this is a priceless possession. The only thing I really fear is losing it.

Reflecting thus, I am amazed at the levity of so many of my fellow-Christians who take such risks with their beliefs. Witness the meeting of Anglican bishops at Lambeth, debating in full canonicals the precise spiritual value of monogamous sodomy. It is true, as the Pope has just rightly reminded us, that their orders are historically invalid, and that therefore their assembly has no more apostolic authority than an international coven of witch doctors or an eisteddfod of druids. All the same, these Right Reverends presumably believe in the powers they think are conferred on them. Why, then, do they engage in their Brueghelesque sarabands of cynicism, their fandangos of fashion and fraudulent faddishness, which are bound to induce contempt for simple faith, and ultimately outright disbelief and despair? Have they no sense?

Some Catholics are no better. I am disgusted, though not surprised, at the petulance expressed by high-placed papists here at the publication by the Vatican of the Pope's apostolic letter, `For the Defence of the Faith'. It is a timely reminder of what they are obliged to believe if they wish to continue to be full members of the Church. There is nothing new in it. It is the Church speaking as she has always spoken, and I trust always will speak, with clarity, certirude and authority. Ceteris paribus it could have been written by St Peter himself. In a sense it was. As the embodiment of Christ's presence on earth, the Church is by necessity authoritarian and hierarchical, culminating in an apex of spiritual power and divinely inspired truth. That is what Catholicism is about. It is not a debating society, an elected parliament of morals or a credal congress. It is not there to argue about right and wrong or truth and falsehood but to proclaim what it already knows with absolute certitude. A little explaining at the margins does not come amiss, but if the Church does anything less than insist on the substance of faith, she is failing in her duty. Properly educated Catholics are taught this from infancy. So what is all the fuss about?

My friend Carla Powell, who ought to know better -- indeed, who does know better - has written a much discussed letter to the Daily Telegraph, accusing the Pope of being totalitarian. …

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