Sunday, September 29, 2013

The answer is yes.

Writing for the Telegraph, Allan Massie asks, "Is baptising a puppy as scandalous as giving Holy Communion to a grown dog?" The theology that allows for "baptizing" an animal is so defective that I think a denomination that allows for it must be said to have fallen away into unchristian territory. One simply can't recreate the relationship of God with mankind into one that makes the same relationship of God with the rest of creation. Truthfully, annual "blessing of pets" events make me a bit queasy because they are an opportunity to misconstrue this special covenant of man with his God.

(The Telegraph) - Somewhere in the house there are probably copies of the handsome Duckworth editions of Ronald Firbank (Five Novels and Three Novels) published way back in the Fifties, not that I feel any desire to search for them. “I think there would be something wrong with a middle-aged man who could take pleasure in Firbank”, Evelyn Waugh wrote in his own middle-age. All the more so doubtless in old age. Finding such pleasure in his books wouldn’t be so much a case of that second childhood into which we may all drift as senility encroaches, but of something perhaps more disturbing : a second adolescence, for Firbank is a writer to delight rather precious and affected youth – perhaps only precious and affected youth like the hero-narrator of Alan Hollinghurst’s novel, The Swimming-Pool Library.

Yet I found myself thinking of Firbank this morning, and indeed of the pleasure I once got from his self-consciously naughty, if also technically interesting, novels. The trigger was reading Damian Thompson’s blog post about the Australian Catholic priest, Fr Greg Reynolds, who has just been excommunicated by the Pope. His offence was not, apparently, not only his approval of women’s ordination and gay marriage, but also his “violation of the Eucharist”, or his permitting of such violation when a communicant at his Mass took the consecrated bread, fed it to his Alsatian dog, and was neither reproved nor ejected.

Here we have a happy example of life imitating art, or fact fiction, for the opening line – I think it is the opening line – of Firbank’s novel, The Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, reads: “A christening, and not a child”. It is indeed a puppy, perhaps, though memory may be playing false, a German Shepherd (Alsatian) on whom the Cardinal is sprinkling the baptismal water.

Incidentally when Sandy Wilson made a delightful musical of Firbank’s novel Valmouth more than half a century ago, he was so taken with the eccentric Cardinal that he transferred him from his own novel to Valmouth, and gave him a splendid song in which he declared his love for all the Ritz Hotels of the world – “when I go to the Ritz in New York, they give me the bridal suite”, before maintaining that his “Cathedral of Clemenza is the Ritziest of them all.”

I suppose Pope Francis would have drummed Cardinal Pirelli out of the Church too. As it is, I can’t remember anything of the Firbank novel except that christening of the puppy.

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