Tuesday, October 18, 2011


The late Auberon Waugh (1939-2001), essayist, critic, columnist, son of Evelyn Waugh and conservator of the Waugh family wit, often comes to mind when contemplating some of the imbecilities of certain members of the Catholic Church hierarchy. These imbecilities have been in full public view for a good four decades now with apparently no ending in sight. One hopes that when Saint Peter’s Chair is eventually occupied by a man of sterner stuff we may begin to see an end to this Reign of Episcopal Mediocrity. Waugh knew well this inadequacy of high Ecclesiastical Circles.

Waugh was no respecter of persons. He had more than a little disdain for prelates like Basil Cardinal Hume of England, the very epitome of the typical modernist Archbishop, and it was delightful watching him skewer the man in print. The torments were so richly deserved and it is just possible these earthly flagellations saved Hume some time in Purgatory, assuming he made it there in the first place. (Let us at least hope so.)

Again we must thank Mr Tony Fraser for giving us permission to quote from an article in his father Hamish Fraser’s excellent journal, Approaches. From the issue #85 (Corpus Christi, 1984) comes “The ‘Faith’ of Cardinal Hume”:


(In the Spectator of November 28, 1981, Auberon Waugh quoted from and commented on Cardinal Hume’s Foreword to a re-issue of Butler’s Lives of the Saints which had been published in 1956 by Burns and Oates. The new edition, identical in every respect except for the Foreword, has been published by Christian Classics, Inc. of Westminster, Maryland, USA. Auberon Waugh playfully refers to the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster (England) as ‘Dom Basil Brush’ [which apparently refers to a TV character]. Note by Hamish Fraser, Editor)


“We live in a sophisticated, if not cynical age in which the former ‘certainties’ of faith which brought comfort to so many are now being widely questioned. But surely a living faith can have no certainties?

“Faith, by very definition, grows through a constant, indeed daily, process whereby doubts old and new must ever be conquered afresh.”

Concerning Cardinal Hume’s ‘definition’, Auberon Waugh commented:

‘I wonder what definition of faith he has in mind. The Oxford Dictionary makes no reference to any constant, let alone daily process of growth, nor does the usual Catholic definition contained in the answer to Question 9 in the Catechism of Christian Doctrine:

Q. What is Faith? A. Faith is a supernatural gift of God which enables us to believe without doubting whatever God has revealed.

‘But perhaps in the world of Dom Basil Brush phrases like “by definition” are thrown in when you or I would say “um” or “or”.
[ED: Basil Brush refers to a British children's TV show character.]

The Cardinal continues:

“This growth in faith can be helped by stories of the saints…. It is not surprising then that there should be a demand today for yet another edition of Butler’s Lives. For this present generation, not the letter which killeth, but the spirit which awakens.”

‘One would have thought that anyone, or almost anyone, could write a couple of words of introduction to an old favourite without causing such intense irritation among his readers that they must hold on to a piece of furniture for several minutes in order to resist throwing all four volumes of this magnificent and indispensable book out of the window.

‘Cardinal Hume has an amazing touch with the English language, which might be the literary equivalent of King Midas’ gift, except in reverse. Everything he touches turns to lead and choking dust.

‘Does he really think that the lesson of St Cuthbert Mayne to this present generation, “The Queen neither ever was, nor is, nor ever shall be the head of the Church in England” is actually one of creative uncertainty? Did the countless martyrs in this book reply to their tormentors as they approached with iron hooks, disemboweling tools and other instruments: “Well of course I quite see your point of view, and a living faith can have no absolute certainties”?

‘Well, some of them undoubtedly did….Blessed John Beche, Abbot of Colchester, even went so far as to renounce the Pope and affirm the King’s supremacy over the Pope’s “usurped authority”, pleading with Henry “to be good to me for the love of God.” This may have been overlooked at the time of his beatification. In any case, it did not work.

‘Obviously, none of us who have not been threatened with grisly martyrdom are in a position to criticize Beche, but so far as I know nobody has yet threatened Cardinal Hume – himself a former Benedictine Abbot – with any of these things, and his capitulation seems a trifle premature.

‘The chief function of this book, it seems to me, is precisely as an antidote to the type of Catholicism represented by Cardinal Hume and his slippery colleague in Liverpool [Derrick Worlock, Ed.]. Goodness knows there is need for such an antidote. Mercifully, printing costs precluded any revision of the text to bring it into line with current thinking as represented by Dom Basil, Archbishop Worlock, and “this present generation” of others.

‘It was a very bad joke indeed to ask Dom Basil Brush to write a foreword to this, of all books, and I wish they hadn’t. But the page can be cut out quite easily and used for whatever purpose seems most appropriate.’

Auberon Waugh.

Cardinal Hume has passed on to whatever reward God has handed him, and so has, sadly, Mr Waugh. One wishes he were still with us. Imagine how he would have dealt with Hume’s successors, like Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and Vincent Nichols. What fun we have could have had!

RIP, Mr Waugh.
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