Monday, August 15, 2005

Sacred monkeys!

I was re-reading Brideshead Revisted the other day, and really enjoying myself. My favorite passage comes when Julia's husband-to-be, Ralph, is taking instructions from a priest for the purpose of converting to Catholicism before the marriage. Of course, his interest is purely utilitarian in nature - no Catholicism, no Julia. Of course, Julia's sister Cordelia takes advantage of his ignorance and lack of intellectual curiosity:

"The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what's been taught and what's been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn't know existed. Take yesterday. He seemed to be doing very well. He'd learned large bits of the catechism by heart, and the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary. Then I asked him as usual if there was anything troubling him, and he looked at me in a crafty way and said, "Look, Father, I don't think you're being straight with me. I want to join your Church and I'm going to join your Church, but you're holding too much back." I asked what he meant, and he said: "I've had a long talk with a Catholic -- a very pious, well-educated one, and I've learned a thing or two. For instance, that you have to sleep with your feet pointing East because that's the direction of heaven, and if you die in the night you can walk there. Now I'll sleep with my feet pointing any way that suits Julia, but d'you expect a grown man to believe about walking to heaven? And what about the Pope who made one of his horses a cardinal? And what about the box you keep in the church porch, and if you put in a pound note with someone's name on it, they get sent to hell. I don't say there mayn't be a good reason for all this," he said, "but you ought to tell me about it and not let me find out for myself."

"What can the poor man have meant?" said Lady Marchmain.

"You see he's a long way from the Church yet," said Father Mowbray.

"But who can he have been talking to? Did he dream it all? Cordelia, what's the matter?"

"What a chump! Oh, Mummy, what a glorious chump!"

"Cordelia, it was you."

"Oh, Mummy, who could have dreamed he'd swallow it? I told him such a lot of things. About the sacred monkeys in the Vatican - all kinds of things."
Sacred monkeys. Sometimes I think some of our friends in the fundamentalist Protestant camp believe we have things like sacred monkeys. I bet you could trace back lots of those anti-Catholic rumors to a really bored Catholic kid who decide to mess with his Protestant neighbors ... ;)


  1. I love Brideshead. It is an annual re-read for me, which I do at back-to-school time. Every time I read it, I discover new treasures of Catholic heritage that Waugh has sprinkled throughout. For instance, I was absolutely clueless about that line of Sebastian's where he says he "positively shouted the Hail, Marys at the end." "What Hail, Marys?," I always asked. "There are no Hail, Marys in the Mass." Until I started attending the Indult Mass, and found out about the Leonine Prayers.

    Thanks for reminding me of the sacred monkeys. Cordelia is such a dear.

  2. evelyn waugh is genius. he hated vatican 2 btw.

  3. He loathed what happened to the liturgy, I don't recall that he had any problems with the Council's theology.