Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why Indulgences are a Good Socialist Thing

Recently at Dignity New Yorkn(a queer Catholic groups), one of out best priests (in terms of
reliability in giving good sermons) poked fun at the recent papal statement that indulgences can be earned in the forth-coming holy year. Indulgences were, it seemed, something old fashioned and funny.

I suggest, however, when one actually studies the history of indulgences, one finds a much healthier and more holistic view of the Christian community, than in the pop therapeutic psychobabble that constantly flows from so many pulpits.

First, let's clarify what an Indulgence is, since many people simply don't know, and seem to think it is a "forgiveness for sin".

There are three aspects to the Catholic teaching on indulgences:

1. The belief that human sin calls forth both guilt and punishment. In other words, without the mercy of God, the structure of the universe demands that human sins deserve punishment.

Catholic writers have argued that "guilt" and "punishment" are not the same thing. This was a reflection on pastoral reality - confessors discovered that many penitents were indeed "sorry" for their sins, but not necessarily sorry because they had offended God. [For example, a sinner might be sorry that the sin would send him/her to hell, but simply not have enough sorrow
or awareness to be fully sorry.] The question was, does this limited sorrow (called "imperfect contrition" or "attrition") represent a movement of grace or not? And more, if a penitent asks for forgiveness in confession, is the sacrament dependent on the "reality" of the penitent's perfect contrition? If it were, there would be no need for confession, since it has always been church teaching that perfect contrition represents a movement of grace, and remits guilt and punishment. The Church chose the *laxer* path - are began to teach that anyone who confessed sins, even if with imperfect contrition, was nevertheless, through the infinite mercy of God
and the atonement of Christ, forgiven the guilt incurred by the sin. But, the belief was, such a person, if he or she died, would still need some "purgation" of the sinful character incurred by sin before he or she could stand to see the face of God. eventually this developed into the theory of a "waiting room for Heaven" or purgatory. Purgatory is a place, or state of mind, in which those who die in a state of imperfect sorrow are purified.

And indulgence, very simply, is considered as another movement of grace which either hurries up (a "partial indulgence") or remits (a "plenary" indulgence) the "time "in purgatory.

In other words, God is good enough to forgive you even if you are sorry for the wrong reasons.

2. But where then does this "indulgence" come from? It's certainly not Biblical (although the Bible does have a story about prayers helping those who are dead - see II Maccabees].

It comes from the VERY catholic idea that grace is tangible. This idea is the single most important marker of Catholicism as compared to Protestantism. That is, Catholic believe that grace (the goodness of God) flows through the universe in tangible material ways. "The World is Charged with the grandeur of God" as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote. Grace works tangibly through the Incarnation, through the saints, through the *physical* elements of the Eucharist and other sacraments, and through sacramentals.

In my opinion, many of the more new agey Dignity preachers, simply do not believe in this tangibility of grace. They seem to be embarrassed by the bodilyness of it all. Frankly I glory in it - its why I became and stay a Catholic. No Protestant spirit could ever understand why bringing candles in front of an image of Our Lady of Guadeloupe is an authentic presentation of a the love of God, and no Catholic spirit can see it as anything other. [Am I being "judgmental"? You betcha.]

With indulgences, the important idea of tangibility relates to the theory of the "treasury of merit". This means, quite concretely, that all the good deed of Christ, his Mother, all the saints, have created a sort of "reserve" of overflowing grace, grace that wipes out, washes away, and
demolishes, the punishments that law and justice may demand. [The "justice" of God after all is God's mercy].

And indulgence then, applies some of the "merit" from the treasury of merit to a given person, to help get over the punishment that their soul will demand for imperfectly repented sins. An indulgence does not forgive guilt [only confession and contrition does that], but it does remit just

3. But how is this "merit" dispensed.

Here the teaching on indulgences, states that the Christian faith is about the Christian community, not about the selfish soul. The Christian community, or Church, can "bind and loose" its members, and the Christian community, and the incarnate reality of Gods overflowing bounty, can remit just punishment for sins. The Church itself is, in this perspective, the
great sacrament.

Catholic history has associated this power of the Church with the power of the keys possessed by the leaders of the community, and especially the bishop of Rome.

In sum: an indulgence is a remission of the punishment due for imperfectly repented sins, representing an overflow of God's grace, mediated though the Christian community.

There is nothing more Catholic.

Now, probably because of the effects of Protestant history, and the really bad teaching that goes on in seminaries (or perhaps because priests keep taking easy psych classes?), the idea continues that indulgences were in fact a papal money-making invention.

The popes, in fact, had little to do with the spread and popularity of indulgences., although they always played an important role in the practice.

The *theology* was outlined by Aquinas and those who came after him. That theology was adopted wholesale at the Council of Trent [which also curbed some abuses]. But it is important to realize that the whole theory represents the ideas of some of the most important Catholic thinkers, not some papal invention.

The spread of indulgences was brought about by the *demand* side. No one was ever forced to go on pilgrimages, say rosaries, etc. It was the Catholic people who wanted them, and it was an insight of the Catholic people that once might gain indulgences not only for oneself, but for dead
people. In other words, the living could help the already saved dead (nothing could help the damned) on their process of purification. The Church, the people realized, in not only composed of those on earth (The Church Militant), but those in purgation (the Church Suffering), and those in Heaven (The Church Triumphant). There was nothing wrong, and everything
right in the entire church trying to get everyone to Heaven!

As I present it the, the doctrine of indulgences reflects the Catholic ideas of grace, overflowing grace, tangible grace, the community of the church, the intellectual effort of the church, and the urging of the Catholic people to develop doctrine in this area.

I think it is kind of sad for priests to make fun of this from the pulpit.

PS: Because grace is free, indulgences have long been easy [And yes I know about Bonhoeffer's thoughts on this]. Smoking and drinking are not sinful, so giving up a pleasure for day for the sake of grace, is a quite acceptable thing to do [although American puritans - among whom number many Catholics - seem now to accept the psychobabble notion that smoking and
drinking are wrong in some way. I can just imagine them complaining about Christ as he got everyone merrier at Cana!]

But, there is noting to stop anyone getting an indulgence, if that us part of their spiritual reflection on their own faults, though many other methods, such as saying a rosary in church, doing the stations of the cross, and so forth.

Lymphoma as Good News

OK, So I have a standard X-ray for TB last Thursday. Nothing scary there - a BCG jag as a student in the UK means skin tests cannot test for TB for me (or almost any Brit).

Then my doctor calls - there is a nodule. "Do I smoke?" Well I tried tobacco for three months just to see what it was like (it's kinda like a cross between poppers and crack that lasts 20 seconds), but then I just stopped.

So I went for a CAT Scan. Girl, did they model those machines on STARGATE or vice-versa? I didn't like it. In fact a catheter up my **** would have been more fun. The tech said he sees nothing bad.

The next day, I get a call from the Doctor [I ditched Dr Pella in Jacksonville - there is a level of assholishness in an HIV clinic you just cannot cope with - the AHF (Magic Johnson) Clinic is much nicer, and the boys/staff are cute.]

Well now the doctor is worried about lymphoma. Suddenly Lung Cancer looks like a breeze ( it can be cut out: as far as I can see Lymphoma wld require Chemo). My friend, D-The Devil's Son, thinks this may be a great way to get opiates (I hate opiates - the make me itch), but, perversely, I think well, some benzos would be nice to calm me down.

I think it's nothing. But we will see. At the very least I now need a living will. I am very Catholic about this: no deprevation of nutrition and food, but dope me to eyeballs with pain killers. I expects it will all be OK. But if its not I am going home to England, where the nice Roman Catholic sisters will give you heroin for pain.

Can anyone tell me why in the land of the free -where you can pursue happiness - some idiot came up with the idea that cancer-patients cannot have heroin in case they become junkies? How does it matter if you are junkie if you are dying.

Dammit, the should be giving speedballs.

Contact between English Jews and Christians:

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Medieval Sourcebook:

Contact between English Jews and Christians:
Two Twelfth-century Views

(1) English Jews drink with Gentiles (Bef. 1184)

It is surprising that in the land of the Isle [England] they are lenient in the matter of drinking strong drinks of the Gentiles and along with them. For the Law is distinctly according to those Doctors who forbid it on the ground that it leads to intermarriage. But perhaps, as there would be great ill feeling if they were to refrain from this, one not be severe upon them.

Source: Tosafoth R. Elchanan (Heb.), Halberstamm MS. f. 48b, ed. Joseph Jacobs, The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records (London, 1893), p. 269. Jacobs notes: "This is from an inedited MS. from the Halberstamm Collection, now at the Judith Montefiore College, Ramsgate, kindly examined and translated by Mr. I. Abrahams for this work. . . "

(2) The result of entering a Jewish House (Bef. 1193)

By a similar piety we know Godeliva of Canterbury to have been seized, who taking some water [sanctified by St. Thomas] in a wooden bucket, was passing through the inn (hospitium) of a certain Jew and entered it at the invitation of a Jewish woman. For being skilled in charms and incantations she was accustomed to charm the weak foot of the Jewess. But scarcely had her foot entered the abominate house when the bucket flew into three pieces and by the loss of the water she learned the wicked intuitions of her own mind, and understanding that she had committed a fault she returned no more to that Jewess.


J.C. Robertson, Materials for History of Thomas Becket, ii. 7., ed. Joseph Jacobs, The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records (London, 1893), p. 153.

Scanned by Elka Klein.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, January 1999

The Best Justification For Gay Love

The Nature of Marriage:
Biblical Metaphors and Complementarity

Traditional Catholic Arguments Against Lesbian and Gay Marriage

Whatever the legal outcome of the Hawaii court case, a case which may possibly make legal marriage between people of the same sex a possibility throughout the United States, it is likely that some Catholic voices will argue that no such "marriages" really exist. They will argue that marriage, by definition, can only be between one man and one woman.

Two main arguments will be used to back this up.

1. Drawing from Genesis 1 and Matt. 19, it will be argued that the sexes are created by God to be "complementary". Marriage, it will be claimed is a social recognition of this complementarity, and while same sex couples may indeed aspire to such union, they will always be incapable of achieving it.

2. Drawing from natural law theory, it will be argued that since homosexual sex is lacking, a homosexual marriage is also impossible. That is the teaching on homosexuality precluded homosexual marriage.

Response to Traditional Arguments

In response to this, I would argue:

Minor responses:

A. Catholic respondents typically ignore the huge variability in marriage across time and cultures, including Biblical cultures. Marriage is not a "Catholic institution": although there is a Catholic "sacrament" of marriage, this is a sacrament built upon an already existing human phenomenon. But this phenomenon called marriage is hardly fixed: it cannot by any rational account exclude polygamous marriages, which were allowed and even encouraged in the "Old Testament" and not condemned in the New. Furthermore, there is no doubt that at many diverse times and places same-sex marriages have been socially acceptable. See my paper on Lesbian And Gay Marriage Across Time And Culture available on the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Catholic Handbook.

B. It also cannot be legitimately asserted that the Church has always and everywhere taught that marriage is a pre-requisite for any sexual activity. Although the early Church was keen on purity issues, it would have been impossible for it to insist that all sexually active members be legally married [there were no Church marriages for hundreds of years as all acknowledge]. This is because marriage in Roman society was restricted to those who had the right of "conubium" - that is free Roman citizens. Marriage was understood as a contract, but contracts could not be made by many - including slaves. Thus many Gentile converts especially in Rome, [Jews, and residents of some cities could presumably make use of local marriage customs] would have been unable to contract marriage. While slave relationships did have some recognition as conterbinium, a huge array of couples simply had no legal way of being "married". But there is no evidence that they were precluded from marriage. Another interesting variant was in Syria. There the extreme ascetic form of Christianity practiced apparently precluded all but celibates from being baptized until their deathbeds. Thus, apparently, no Syrian Christians were united by any Church ceremony. Certainly as non-baptized "adherents" they would not have been able to contract "sacramental marriages".

Major Responses:


point 1: the imposition of a bipolar sex system on human beings is not drawn from "nature". A fairly high number of people seem to be born with characteristics, both external, internal, and genetic of both "males" and "females". We may of course exclude these people as fully human, but I wonder if this is an acceptable strategy.

point 2: the Biblical creation account is metaphorical. Literally it is incoherent [how long was a day before the sun and earth were created?], but as metaphor it works wonderfully. Indeed to deny the metaphor is to so literalize the story that the message gets lost.

Catholic Biblical scholars, at the highest level, have been at the forefront of those who attack such literalizing "fundamentalism". So why is it ' legitimate to literalize the creation of "man and woman"? The Genesis account - in which Adam is given a mate for companionship, not to have children, must surely be read as an origin story of our "Co-Humanity". It is an account not of the origins of marriage [which it does not mention] but of all our mutual relationships with "mates"; this includes heterosexual marriage, but also same sex and different sex friendship, camaraderie and so forth. To literalize the metaphor [see the Mollenkott/Ramey book on "Is the Homosexual my Neighbor?" on this] is to deprive it of its power.

Homosexual couples, engaged in the widespread transhistorical and transcultural phenomenon of social acknowledged same-sex unions aka marriage, exemplify in every way the God-given human characteristic of 'Co-Humanity' as heterosexual couples.


point 1. John Finnis, along with Germain Grisez, have been most responsible for attempting to rehabilitate Natural law ethics out of its Catholic seminary ghetto [Although Grisez has not helped his cause in the area of homosexuality by referring to gays as "sodomites" thoughout his magnus opus.

I want to leave aside serious questions as to whether this rehabilitation has succeeded. [Finnis/Grisez try to remove natural law from a specific religious context - but there is serious doubt {see Russell Hittenger on "The New Natural Law Theory"} as to whether they succeed in doing this], and to accept for the sake of argument that Natural Law can be sustained as a system of Ethical "practical reasoning".

Finnis, who has written on this precise issue, claims that homosexuality is always a frustrated attempt [he is willing to accept, as is Grisez, that foe whatever reasons there are in fact people with a homosexual orientation] to achieve "finality". This idea of "finality", I suppose goes back through Aristotle to Plato. Human beings it argues are limited by their temporality and temporariness. Their striving towards eternity and perfection gives rise to eros which seeks "finality" by the procreation of children. Plato of course, famously, sees the procreation of eternal goods by homosexual lovers as the best instantiation of such eros, but later writers, less convinced perhaps of the ontological reality of virtues, have used this argument from finality to legitimate heterosexual sexuality, and marriage, and delegitimate homosexual activity. Later Christian writers, such as Clement of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo, who were concerned to assert the goodness of matter against the gnostics, but suspicious of passion, like the Stoics and Epicureans, furthered this basically Platonic justification of eros by insisting that sex was legitimate ONLY when it tended to procreation of children.

Finnis' contribution to all this has been to tie in the idea of complementarity and the insistence by the Second Vatican Council on the "unitive" nature of marriage. Finnis claims that only by putting a penis in a vagina can "true" physical union take place. In other words, to become, in Jesus' words, "one flesh", only "penis in vagina" counts.

But, even if we grant most of Finnis' natural law argumentation, it is not at all clear why "penis in vagina" is so special. There is no literal fusion of flesh, nor, by natural design apparently, are the vast majority of heterosexual acts open to "egg meeting sperm" [Women are fertile only a few days a month, but open to sex all the time; and no one suggests that known sterile, through age or other reason, couples need refrain from sex]. If Finnis were to argue that couples should use Natural Family Planning methods to ensure female fertility before all sexual acts, he would have a stronger but not conclusive point. But he does not and cannot argue such a position.

Again, literally, when a sperm and egg fuse, it is not a man and women who are united as "one flesh", but a new genetic entity which is created [with its own rights according to Catholic teaching!]

So what is the nature of "one flesh". Since it has no literal meaning as a phrase, it must be a metaphor. And the reference is not to any specific sexual act, but to the Genesis account of God's creation of Co-Humanity.

Such Biblical rumblings have no real place in pure natural law reasoning, and so Finnis is left, ultimately with the claim that his prejudice that only "penis in vagina" is "real sex". As far as I can see he does not even really try to defend the point. But his argument falls on it.

point 2. Nature, presumably, includes women. And so natural law argumentation, which acknowledges that it draws from human experience, to establish its precepts, or at least knowledge of its precepts, cannot exclude women's experience. Without essentializing two much, it seems fair to argue that men and women have very different relationships to their bodies and to nature. For a man, his body is discontinuous, and different, from both his mother's and his children, but for a women continuity is more visceral [literally.] I find the views of one woman - Audre Lorde important here. Lorde provides an explanation of the place of the erotic which eschews the continuity anxieties of male writers.

Lorde was not a theologian, more a poet of the Lesbian and gay community. But she did have a Catholic girlhood and contributed an essay of some importance to considerations of all aspects of sexuality. In 1983 she published "Uses of the Erotic: The erotic as power", in Sister outsider: essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, (Trumansburg NY; Crossing Pint, 1984) [Much of the discussion here relies on a paper by Ruth Ginzburg, "Audre Lorde's (Nonessentialist) Lesbian Eros" in Claudia Card, ed., Adventures in Lesbian Philosophy, (Bloomington IN: University of Indian Press, 1994), 81 ff]

Lorde identifies the erotic as "a considered source of power and information within our lives" that "rises from our deepest and non-rational knowledge". It provides "the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person" as well as "the open and fearless underlining of one's capacity for joy". Rather than making the erotic a claim to pleasure, Lorde is trying to answer the question "why is the erotic a good thing" can comes up with the answer that "the sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference". This is a political and moral conclusion of some importance.

What Lorde succeeds in doing is explaining why the erotic is virtue without teleological concerns. She does not require procreation to make eros virtuous, the strategy which had been central to its defense since Plato. Ginzburg at least, claims this is a gynocentric and Lesbian insight into eros. The implications for evaluation of homosexual relationships are immense [and not pursued by Ginzburg]. The entire tradition which has condemned homosexuality as "lacking finality" is based on a justification of eros which required finality .

Lorde's contribution then, consists in enabling as yet undone reconsiderations of both the nature of the erotic and the moral evaluation of the erotic. Repeatedly commentators on the topic see the inability of Lesbian and Gay marriages to produce children as, at best, a defect. But when we see the erotic as virtuous because of its ability to share joy and bridge isolation immediately , then the teleological framework totters.


Traditional Catholic arguments against the *possibility* of gay marriage fail easily in the arena of secular discussion. Since such marriages have existed, and are in fact conceivable in many cultures [and in almost as many forms as heterosexual marriage], they are possible. But even in the arena of Catholic Biblical and theological reasoning, there is no convincing reason to assert that same sex marriages are impossible.

I will acknowledge that in the law of the Latin Church, sacramental marriage between baptized Christians has always been seen as a union of a man and a woman [the definition of the Roman jurist Herrenius Modestinus], but this is open to change I think. [The application of "sacraments", especially ordination and penance has varied so wildly over history, that the only rational explanation is that the Church on earth has tremendous power over their form. Even now when all Catholics are taught that there are seven sacraments, the positions of confirmation and episcopal consecration are fitted into the picture only with difficulty.]. At all events, the sacramentality of Catholicism has never been limited to the designated "sacraments", but extends to all sorts of religious activities [a notion even more comprehensible to the Orthodox, who will agree that there are seven sacraments, but have a pretty hard time excluding funerals and monastic vows from the sacramental field].

Since there is no good reason to exclude gay marriage, never mind deny that it can exist, we can hope that the Church of the future will recognize its past limitations, and begin to record again marriages by same sex, intersex, and different sex couples - all in witness to the Creator's gift of co-humanity.

Friday, May 26, 2006

It's Not Time to Forgive Mrs Thatcher

THE THATCHER YEARS: The Rebirth of Liberty?

This is a Yankee joke, right?

If it's not, I think we have a problem.

The first is that we do need more discussions of the postwar history of
specific European states [as opposed to "Europe"] in US academia.

The departments which have hitherto discussed these issues - Political
Science and Economics - seem to me at least, to be frequently so dominated
by current political ideologies that plain historical narrative goes by the
wayside. [And this leaves aside the apparently obsessive conviction of US
commentators that the European welfare model of capitalism has failed -
despite massive amounts of evidence to the contrary.]

It is, for instance, very difficult to find explanations for survey courses
of what happened in Britain in the 1950-1970s. The almost compete collapse
of the British government under Ted Heath [with the country reduced to a 3
day work week, the population compelled to go to bed at 10:30pm, inflation
at 20% plus, and a subsequent election that threw Heath out of office]
seems never to have happened according to textbooks!

So it's not very encouraging when we find US conferences that address an important period in modern British history, but seem predetermined in there right-wing approach. I know US Colleges tryto promote itself though flashy conferences, but would promotion not be better achieved through genuine historical consideration rather than the use of code words such a "rebirth of liberty"?

For the record, under Mrs.. Thatcher

  • -Local governments that opposed her polices were simply abolished by ukase. Her hatred for the Greater London Council lead to the abolition of any general local government body for London, and delivery of massive powers to some local Conservative run authorities, some of which proceeded to use bribery and corruption to remain in office. [See the history of the City of Westminster Council on this.].
  • -Thatcher's government introduced criminal justice bill after criminal justice bill which stripped away the rights of people placed under arrest and charged in court.
  • -Her government attacked the universities over funding, and abolished tenure for new positions [including if you were promoted.]
  • -Her government adopted economic policies which shifted the burden of tax to the poor, and used high unemployment to constrain and beat down trade unions. I know this is heresy in the US, but while political freedom is important, any definition of freedom must include control over one's own life in all spheres. Thatcher's policies took away such control for many of the unemployed, and for those who were terrorized by the constant threat of layoffs.
  • -In 11 years of government She did nothing to bring about a solution in Northern Ireland, and permitted the police and judiciary to jail many innocent Irish men and women in the UK.
  • -Her government permitted the passage of private members' bills which sought to vilify and marginalize homosexual men and women, and to deprive them of the equal protection of the law.
  • -Immigration regulations where altered and enforced in an openly aggressive manner. [Thatcher's pre-election rhetoric had concentrated on the problems f "cultural invasion" by immigrants.]
  • -Although she did not put all his policies into effect, her main intellectual mentor was Keith Joseph, an man who combined an Aynrandian view of society with open calls for eugenic programs.
One could go on. Some of us simply got out.

To be fair, there are other aspects of Thatcher's polices which might have been more admirable (her government rapidly saw the need for widespread AIDS prevention programs, for instance, a response which contrasted massively with the almost criminal slowness of the Reagan administration in the US.)

I still detest Thatcher.


A Discussion on the Moral Culpability of Pius XII

>From a colleague:

>In regards to our discussion on whether John Paul II should apologize
for the inaction of Pius XII, my argument that no action is an action,
and that there are moral responsibilities which go along with
inaction, DOES have great philosophical support - see Utilitarians.
However, as my wife points out, Catholic theology since the middle
ages, much like Jewish, is much more concerned with sins of

[A] Thinking about it, I suppose my comments were drawn from a
consideration of English (i.e. Anglo-American) Common Law, where, as
far as I understand it, an adult bystander who did nothing to help a
child endangered by an oncoming car has no legal culpability (as
opposed to an adult who put a child in the way of an onrushing car).

On the other hand, moral culpability is often wider than legal

[B] Taking the same example, it seems to me that a person who did not
move to aid such an endangered child in a circumstance where there was
no danger to the adult has clearly failed as a human being in some
profound way. Such a comment however depends on my prior belief that
there is an essential authentic humanity by which people ought to be

[C] But what about the example where the adult does not act to save
the child because so acting would seriously endanger the adult's
well-being or continued existence. Changing the example slightly,
would you, or I, for example, rush into a burning house to save a
child? In such a circumstance, it seems there is a need for prudential
judgement on the likelihood of success, but that when in such a
circumstance the adult does not act, there is no culpability, and when
the adult does act, one has an example not of a moral action we have a
right to expect, but of moral heroism.

[D] Why would people engage in such moral heroics? In practice, for a
variety of reasons. Honor, for example, has clearly motivated many
people to moral heroism in the past. The other great motive must be
love. While I would not rush into a burning house to save just
anyone, I would almost certainly do so to attempt, whatever the odds,
to save someone I loved so greatly that I could not live with out

There really are different views on Pius XII' action or inaction: John
Cornwall recently came out with his _Hitler's Pope_, but both Pope
Paul VI (who was a vociferous anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist) and in more
recent years the British Ambassador in Rome during the war argued that
Pius XII both spoke and acted against the Holocaust according to a
reasonable prudential judgement. But stipulating, for the sake of
argument, that Pius XII did not act, then how should his (stipulated)
inaction be evaluated? Clearly, he has no legal culpability ([A]
above) since he did not commission or participate in the Holocaust.
Nor, I think did circumstance [B] obtain -- the pope was clearly in a
good deal of danger (and I think that arguments that Catholic Europe
would arise to defend him was fantasy). I think the most that can be
said is that [C] obtained, and the pope if (as stipulated) did not
act, then he simply did not risk himself to save others. This may not
be admirable, but it is not morally culpable.

The problem, of course, is that for Catholic Christians, the moral
order of the universe is established by Love not Justice, and
sainthood demands an element of moral heroics that on occasion
overcome normal prudential considerations. A pope is not meant to be
a living saint -- (there clearly were Catholic people during the
Holocaust who did act with the requisite moral heroism -- the case
Maximilien Kolbe for example) -- but should surely be evaluated
according to a moral calculus based on love rather than prudence. In
this case, if Pius XII did not act, and did not do so because he could
not find in his heart love for the victims of the Holocaust, then
indeed he failed to measure up to the demands of heroic morality.

I don't see, however, that someone has to apologize, or be apologized
for, for not being a saint (i.e. in Catholic terms, a moral hero.) It
seems to me that, absent any claim that Pius XII commissioned the
Holocaust, demands for an apology are demands for an apology for not
being a saint.

Some additional points which complicate my comments.

1. There is indeed an effort to canonize Pius XII as a saint. These
should not go ahead, in my opinion, unless moral heroism can be shown.

2. Nothing I wrote has a bearing on whether the Church should
apologize for its history of anti-Semitism in general. It should, and

3. Although I entirely accept the crucial role of Christian
anti-Semitism in laying the basis for the inclusion of Jews in the
Nazi exterminationism, it cannot, as some recent commentary has
suggested, be seen as the only cause. Other groups, who had never
been the subject of specifically Christian prejudice (Gypsies/Roma,
Poles, Serbs, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc -- in all about 5 million
people) were also victimized by the Nazis. Even the extreme
exterminationism whereby Jews alone were hunted down throughout
Europe, had a real parallel it the hunting down and extermination of
Gypsies. Leaving aside the possibility of simple mass group pathology,
it seems to me that the motivations of the Nazis were also drawn from
(bad) racial science, and more importantly, from *ethnic nationalism,*
a political and cultural force whose power you know well, but which
was always antithetical to Christian (and specifically Catholic)
teaching. I think that part of the current exclusive emphasis on the
very real religious roots of the Holocaust arises from a refusal to
consider the willingness of nationalists of all stripes to dehumanize
and stigmatize other ethnic groups.

Finally, not that in discussing the issues above, I allowed that Pius
XII was indeed inactive during the Holocaust. Although a huge number
of news reports have been written as if this were a given, I think it
does indeed have to proved. Opening Vatican archives of the period
would indeed be a good start in resolving the question.


I was discussing the virtues of British Obituaries with a friend. These are the ones for the great Byzantinist Steven Runciman in 2000. Enjoy


Date: Nov 1 2000

Sir Steven Runciman

Scholar, linguist and gossip, whose revisionist History of the Crusades and
studies of Byzantium were massively researched and widely read

Steven Runciman was famous for throwing light on some very dark ages, and
attempting, as he said the historian must, "to record in one great sweeping
sequence the greater events and movements that have swayed the destiny of
man". But as well as being the leading historian of the Crusades, he was a
world traveller, the companion of royalty - at least four queens were said
to have turned out for his 80th birthday - and an aficionado of the foibles
of the powerful, whether past or present. Details of forgotten personalities
glint in all his writings, and he could discourse about ancient genealogies,
scandals and feuds until the crusaders came home.

His most important work, the three- volume History of the Crusades, took a more sceptical line
than any previous Western historian, and was freshly informed by a reading
of Islamic sources. Two hundred years earlier Gibbon had portrayed the
crusades as doomed romantic escapades, and wrote of "the triumph of
barbarism and superstition". But in Runciman's eyes the crusaders were not a
chivalrous host who captured but failed to keep the Holy Land: they were the
final wave of the barbarian invaders who had destroyed the Roman Empire.
They completed this work by destroying the real centre of medieval
civilisation and the last bastion of antiquity, Constantinople and the
Byzantine Empire. In charting the medieval phase of the endless struggle
between East and West in the Middle East, Runciman's sympathies were
unambiguously with Byzantium against the bigots and wreckers of the West.

His final judgment of the whole enterprise set a standard of
self-laceration which British historians have since struggled to surpass:
"High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance
by a blind and narrow self-righteousness; and the Holy War itself was
nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a
sin against the Holy Ghost."

James Cochran Stevenson Runciman was the
second son of Walter Runciman, the first Viscount. His paternal grandfather
was a Geordie of Scots descent who ran away to sea at 11, was a master
mariner by 21 and founded a shipping line. His maternal grandfather ran a
chemical works in Jarrow. His parents were both Liberal MPs - the first
married couple to sit together in the Com- mons - so he knew Winston
Churchill from before the First World War. His best friend at Summer Fields
prep school was the son of Herbert Asquith, and in 1991 he claimed to have
known every Prime Minister of the century except Campbell Bannerman, who
died when he was three, and Bonar Law, "whom nobody knew".

He was a
linguist from the age of three, when his governess began to teach him
French. Latin followed at six, Greek at seven, and Russian at 11. With these
accomplishments and a budding interest in history, he was a King's Scholar
at Eton, and from there he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge.

His mother had taken a first in history at Girton, and he followed her
example with a first in 1925. He soon became a fellow of Trinity and a
university lecturer. His rooms in Nevile's Court were famous for their
French 1820s grisaille wallpaper, depicting Cupid and Psyche, and his
exquisite bric-a-brac. He kept a green parakeet called Benedict, which he
use to spank with a pencil for misdemeanours.

He was already immensely
grand, and loved socialising. As well as books and pictures - including
Edward Lear watercolours - he collected anecdotes and people, and the names
in his gossip did not so much drop as float diaphanously. He was a
broad-gauge gossip, ranging across the academic, literary, social and royal
spheres with tales and tittle-tattle about many generations in many
countries. A typical example was his story of the Queen of the Belgians who
had one of the first facelifts, and was left with a permanent smile, so that
when the King died she had to return to the clinic to have it let down

Through his Eton friend Dadie Rylands, now a young don at
King's, Runciman met John Maynard Keynes, and through Keynes's wife, Lydia
Lopakova, he met Diaghilev. Rylands also introduced him to the Bloomsbury
circle around Virginia Woolf (whom Runciman never much cared for). Lytton
Strachey's attacks on the then accepted greatness of the British Empire
formed a precedent for Runciman's growing scepticism about much earlier
attempts at conquest; and the enthusiasm of Roger Fry and Clive Bell helped
to foster his interest in Byzantine art.

As a bachelor don he was a guide, friend and teasing mentor to a number of undergraduates, including Guy Burgess and Noel Annan, whose affection he won for life. He gave
intimate lunches and dinners enlivened occasionally by telling the fortunes
of his guests, including the odd king, by Tarot card. But his heart was in
travel and research, and the historian George Trevelyan advised him to leave
Cambridge if he wanted to write. So in 1938, having come into a considerable
fortune on his grandfather's death, he resigned his fellowship at Trinity
(though the College made him an honorary fellow in 1965).

During the war he was a press attachŠ¹ to the British legation in Sofia and then in
Cairo, and from 1942 till 1945 was professor of Byzantine history and art at
the University of Istanbul. From 1945 until 1947 he was head of the British
Council in Athens - while Osbert Lancaster was at the Embassy and Paddy
Leigh Fermor was at the British Institute.

He then devoted himself to
writing books, dividing his time, when he was not on his travels, between
his house in St John's Wood and the Island of Eigg, where he entertained
friends by showing them the singing sands and the spot where the Queen of
Eigg beheaded numbers of Christian martyrs.

At Trinity Runciman had
produced three books, written with the lucidity and grace that were to be
his hallmark. The Times commended both The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus (1929)
and The First Bulgarian Empire (1930), saying that "many happy flashes, both
of inspiration and phrasing, show that he has studied his Gibbon to good
effect". These were followed by the book that first made his name, Byzantine
Civilization (1933), which in fewer than 300 pages conjured up a full
picture of Byzantine life and thought, and it gave a much-needed new
dimension to medieval history. In 1947 he published The Medieval Manichee,
which he had written in part before the war and in which he pursued the
famous dualist heresy from the Bogomils in Bulgaria to the Albigensians in

It was, however, his great History of the Crusades (1951, 1952
and 1954), that made Runciman known to a much wider public. No adequate
history in English existed when he began, and he broke with his French
predecessors by telling the story not just from the viewpoint of the West,
but also as Islam and Constantinople had seen it. To do this he drew on
Greek, Armenian and Muslim texts, as well as on more modern sources.
The book is a model of narrative history. The three volumes are each
divided into five parts, so that the reader primarily interested in one
facet of the story can find his way without difficulty. But Runciman was
uninterested in historiography. Not for him the sociological techniques, the
excursions into demography, geography and economics of the Braudel school of
history. He told the tale, he was readable, and his account was
authoritative - a standard work for years to come. He continued the story
with The Sicilian Vespers (1958).

In 1965 Runciman wrote his most
elegiac work, The Fall of Constantinople, once again making use of
multifarious sources, Muslim as well as Greek. He had already explored the
political and theological rift between the Catholic powers and the Orthodox
Greeks in The Eastern Schism (1955), and there was a poignant sympathy in
his account of a civilisation that knew itself to be doomed but would not
compromise its style of life.

He was to continue writing books on
Byzantine history for a further 15 years, following the fortunes of the
Orthodox Church in captivity, the theocracy, style and civilisation of the
medieval Greeks and the relations of Church and State. His researches took
him often to the Balkans and the Near East, where he had friends from many
walks of life.

Even so, he found time in 1960 in a splendid display of
versatility to publish The White Rajahs, a study of the Brooke family in
Sarawak. To do this he had to travel to the Far East, and soon after- wards
he travelled to South America. All the time he was writing papers for
historical journals, but these contributions to learning paled beside the
list of his lectures. As well as such named lectures as the Waynflete at
Oxford (1953-54), the Gifford at St Andrews (1960-62) and the Birkbeck at
Trinity, Cambridge (1966), he spoke at many American universities, and was
happy to journey to the most out-of-the-way places. He could be an
unforgetable lecturer, as for instance when he spoke with melancholy
resignation on the last days of Constantinople.

Runciman held public
appointments over many years. He was a trustee of the British Museum and a
member of the ad- visory council of the Victoria and Albert. From 1974 he
was a vice-president of the London Library, which two years ago gave a lunch
party to celebrate his 95th birthday and the 75th year of his life
membership. He later marked the anniversary in his own way, paying for a
long-overdue replacement of the library's alarming passenger lift. He warmly
approved the motto selected for it from the Vulgate Book of Daniel: Plurimi
pertransibunt et multiplex erit scientia ("Many shall run through it, and
knowledge shall be increased").

In Greece Runciman was welcomed as a
historian who did not talk as if Greek history stopped with Alexander, and
who recognised that the Greeks see Byzantium and the Orthodox Church as more
integral to their culture than Sparta. He was paid the signal honour of
having a street named after him in Mistra, the site which he celebrated in a
book published in 1980. He chaired the Anglo-Hellenic League, and sat on the
board of the National Trust for Greece.

He held honorary degrees from
many universities and lectured in more than a score of countries. He was
knighted in 1958 and appointed CH in 1984. His last book, published in 1991,
was A Traveller's Alphabet of places that excited his interest.
[PARA]Brought up in Northumberland, he loved the Border countryside and was
deeply attached to Scotland. When his family sold Eigg he removed to
Dumfriesshire where he lived in a peel tower near Lochmaben. He sat on the
councils of the National Trust for Scotland and the Museum of Antiquities,
and took a lively interest in the Scottish Ballet. When guests sang Scottish
songs, he liked to accompany them with plenty of legato.

Tall and
large-boned, with auburn hair glinting, he would glide into a party and soon
be surrounded. His quizzical, expressive face would register alarm,
amusement and incredulity as he told stories or listened to others. Not much
given to ponderous discussion and sceptical about schemes to improve the
world, he stood by his division of people into two groups, first made at
Eton: the agreeable and the "sillies" (among whom, of course, were numbered
many clever fools). His capacity for friendship was remarkable, and not only
in this country but wherever he went on his travels there are many who will
miss his wit and knack of giving pleasure.
He did not marry.

Hon Sir Steven Runciman, CH, FBA, historian, was born on July 7, 1903. He
died yesterday aged 97.


The Independent, Nov 2, 2000

BYLINE: Philip Mansel

STEVEN RUNCIMAN was the leading British specialist in the history of the
Byzantine Empire and the Crusades.

He had a romantic love of the Middle Ages since early childhood. For
Runciman, history was above all a story, "the only form of learning that is
entirely about human beings" (animals, vegetables and minerals were firmly
excluded). He wrote in the preface to his celebrated three-volume A History
of the Crusades (1951-54): "I believe that the supreme duty of the historian
is to write history, that is to say, to attempt to record in one sweeping
sequence the greater events that have swayed the destinies of men."

Although he had followed Crusader routes across Turkey and Syria, he
admitted that he had never found new archival material of value, indeed that
he was "not very good at reading manuscripts": he concentrated on style
instead, modelling himself, for simplicity and picturesqueness, on Beatrix
Potter. He typed surrounded by his sources, "muttering because I want to get
the sound right. I think a book isn't well written unless it can be read

He succeeded in interesting members of the general reading public, as well
as other historians, in such distant realms as the Despotate of the Morea
and the Principality of Antioch, in the genealogies of the feudal families
of Outremer and the intrigues which led to the massacres of Frenchmen in the
Sicilian Vespers. Gore Vidal wrote: "To read an historian like Sir Steven
Runciman is to be reminded that history is a literary art quite equal to
that of the novel."

Runciman claimed to have made more money for his publishers, Cambridge
University Press (which also publishes the Bible), than any author except

James Cochran Stevenson Runciman came from a world of power and wealth. His
father, Walter Runciman (later first Viscount Runciman of Doxford), was
President of the Board of Trade in the Asquith cabinet; his parents were the
first married couple to be MPs at the same time. He went to Eton and Trinity
College, Cambridge, where he was photographed by Cecil Beaton. Beaton later
wrote: "When I photographed Steven Runciman wearing his thick black hair in
a fringe, with a budgerigar (in fact a parakeet called Benedict) poised on
his ringed finger, looking obliquely into the camera in the manner of the
Italian primitives, I knew I had not lived in vain."

At Cambridge, Runciman was the first and only pupil of the celebrated
Byzantine historian J.B. Bury, whom he described as "not at all welcoming".
G.M. Trevelyan advised him that, if he wanted to write, he should leave
Cambridge. In 1929-30 he covered most of Greece on foot.

A bachelor and a younger son with a private income ("There's a lot to be
said for being a younger son"), by the age of 30 Runciman had published
three learned and original books: The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his
Reign (1929), The First Bulgarian Empire (1930) and Byzantine Civilisation

His work was helped by his love of languages: he knew Bulgarian, Russian and
Turkish as well as Greek, Latin and French. He preferred Greek to Latin
since he considered it "a much more flexible language", and the Byzantines
to be more civilised than the Western Europeans.

Runciman was also a historian of religion. Himself fascinated by Greek
Orthodox doctrine and mysticism, which he considered humbler and wiser than
Western theology, he wrote books on medieval manicheism, the schism between
the Latin and Greek churches and the Greek church under the Ottoman sultans
(in which he pointed out "if absolute power corrupts, so too does absolute
impotence"). Although he was a specialist in the Greek and Latin East, he
was no bigot. He called the Crusades "a vast fiasco . . . one of the last
and most disastrous of the Barbarian invasions", and lamented the fall of
the Ottoman Empire.

Few historians have enjoyed such an international life - as he revealed in
his partial memoirs A Traveller's Alphabet (1991). They proceed from Mount
Athos, via memories of Cambodia and Yucatan, to end in Zion. During the
Second World War Runciman was Press Attache in Sofia (on the recommendation
of Guy Burgess) and Film Censor in Palestine. Later he taught at the
universities of Istanbul, Baghdad, Oxford and Cambridge. Two of his best
books were The Fall of Constantinople, 1453 (1965) and an account of the
Orthodox Church under the Ottoman Empire, The Great Church in Captivity
(1968). Partly in gratitude for these works, the Patriarch of Constantinople
appointed him Grand Orator of the Great Church. In Syria he became an
honorary whirling dervish; in Mistra a street was named after him.

Steven Runciman was tall, slim and mild-looking. At the age of 14 he had
been informed by Mrs Asquith: "My dear boy, it isn't that you've got bad
manners, it's that you've got no manners at all."

Since he believed, as he told David Plante, in the duty to "talk and listen,
to be engaged and engaging", he soon acquired manners, and friends. His
acquaintances included Lady Ottoline Morrell, Lawrence of Arabia - who
inspired feelings of mistrust and physical repulsion - Sophia Loren, the
Regent of Iraq ("rather a silly man"), the Ruler of Bahrain and Prince Louis
of Hesse, a cousin by marriage: "He was, I think, the most civilised man
that I have ever known."

Runciman himself had the sense of understatement, and the sceptical
intonation, occasionally slightly plaintive, of his class and generation: he
could make a monosyllable such as "there" sound as if it contained three
vowels. Shy but gregarious, self-assured and formidable, he frequently
entertained friends at Elsieshields, a large white Scottish house complete
with arrow- slits and turrets, which was decorated with water-colours of
Greece by Edward Lear and views of Istanbul by the younger van de Velde.
Most of his cooking and cleaning, like his travelling, was done alone.

The fascination of his conversation, revealed to a wider public in an
excellent 1987 television programme, Bridge to the East, came from his
ability to ignore conventional limits of time and space. He would switch
from Thailand before the war, where "life was rather lively" and he felt
like Gulliver in Lilliput, to the rows between Winston and Clementine
Churchill. Dinner with Queen Marie of Roumania in her castle in Transylvania
was described with as much zest as a debauched Halloween party in Alaska 40
years later.

He was delighted to be called a snob - "Clio, the muse of history, was an
awful snob" - and had few rivals as a source of royal anecdotes. One
described Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians, the first queen to have her face
lifted, who was given a smile so ecstatic that, when her husband died in a
climbing accident, it had to be "let down" before the funeral. He remembered
playing the piano with the last Emperor of China, and had met families from
the Caucasus who referred to the Virgin Mary as Aunt Mary.

Among his many honours he was Chairman of the Anglo-Hellenic League from
1951 to 1967, President of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara
from 1960 to 1975, and a Companion of Honour. Peter Maxwell Davies dedicated
Eight Songs for a Mad King to him, and he was knighted in 1958.

By the end of his life, hailed as "our greatest living narrative historian",
he could say: "I suppose one has become a sort of celebrity up to a certain

When my wife and I last visited Steven Runciman in the spring at his beloved
home at Elsieshields, the restored tower house near Lockerbie, he was
tearful about the parlous condition of the Serb people and the destruction
and damage inflicted on so many of their churches, writes Tam Dalyell.

In particular, he was concerned about the Patriarchate of Pec, the monastery
at Decani, the cathedral at Prizren, and the nunnery of Gracanica. My last
telephone call to him was to report on my visit to Gracanica in June,
escorted by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. Runciman sighed: "If Gracanica
is, as you tell me, reduced to a Serb enclave, it is certain that some time
this century the Serbs will inaugurate military action to retake Kosovo." He
was always concerned about the future, however many anecdotes he would tell
about his experience of life in the British elite, in the early years of the
20th century.

Sir Patrick Cormack MP, chairman of the parliamentary All Party Arts and
Heritage Group, regularly had lunch with Runciman at the Athenaeum: "Only
three months ago he was still at the table in the club dining room,
composing mischievous limericks about current personalities."

David Winfield, who delivered the Rhind Lectures at Edinburgh in 1972 on
Cypriot mosaics and wall-paintings, and the day before yesterday delivered
one of the Frank Davies Memorial Lectures at the Courtauld Institute in
London on the conservation of Byzantine paintings, recalls: "Steven Runciman
was extremely generous with advice - and often personal money - to young
postgraduates and scholars endeavouring to start an academic career in the
art history of the Orthodox world."

One of his abiding interests was the life of the monks of Mount Athos, which
he hoped would continue unchanged until Eternity. Runciman expressed not the
remotest sympathy when he heard that the All Party Heritage Group's visit to
Athos in 1996 had resulted in the males' being welcomed and lunched by the
monks while the formidable ladies of the group, such as Baroness Lockwood,
former Chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Baroness David,
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon, former Commander of the Metropolitan Police,
and Dame Jill Knight MP were confined to a boat which was to come no nearer
the monasteries than 500 metres offshore.

Runciman was always sad that so many professional scholars tended to dismiss
his work as that of a moneyed amateur. However, anyone who came in contact
with him as President of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara over
many years must know that he remained the deeply serious scholar who wrote
the epic history of the Crusades.

It was a tradition that at each Feast held by Trinity College, Cambridge, he
could invite a guest, who would stay in the room adjoining his on the top
floor of the Master's Lodge. As one of his guests in the early 1990s I could
see at first hand his astonishing zest for contemporary affairs. Also, his
astonishing physical resilience. In his middle nineties he would still come
to the Edinburgh Festival, and climb the 80 steps to the top- floor flat of
his friend the art historian Nicholas Phillipson.

Runciman was a daily reader of Independent obituaries, "a connoisseur", as
he put it. He took unashamed delight in outliving not only his own
contemporaries, but his friends and acquaintances of the following
generation. He actually asked me when he was 90 if I would promise to
contribute to his own obituary in The Independent, with the remark, "It will
be this year because a palmist in Bulgaria told me of my fate." Runciman's
unquenchable spirit defeated the palmist. He would chuckle with delight that
he had won.

James Cochran Stevenson Runciman, historian: born 7 July 1903; Fellow,
Trinity College, Cambridge 1927-38 (Honorary Fellow 1965); Lecturer,
Cambridge University 1932-38; Professor of Byzantine Art and History,
University of Istanbul 1942-45; British Council Representative, Greece
1945-47; Chairman, Anglo-Hellenic League 1951 -67; FRSL 1952; Kt 1958;
President, British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara 1960-75; Chairman,
National Trust for Greece 1977-84; CH 1984; CLit 1987; died Radway,
Warwickshire 1 November 2000.


Sir Steven Runciman

SIR STEVEN RUNCIMAN, who has died aged 97, was the pre-eminent historian of
the Byzantine Empire and of the Crusades; he was also a celebrated aesthete,
gentleman scholar and repository of the civilised values of Edwardian times.

His magnum opus was the three-volume A History of the Crusades, published
between 1951 and 1954. In its preface Runciman set out his credo, one that
derived from Gibbon, and stressed the claims of grand narrative over narrow
analysis: "I believe that the supreme duty of the historian is to write
history, that is to say, to attempt to record in one sweeping sequence the
greater events and movements that have swayed the destinies of man."

For Runciman, the Crusades were not romantic adventures but the last of the
barbarian invasions, albeit ones that brought about the dominance of Western
civilisation. His opinion was partly determined by his sympathy for the
Byzantine Empire, often at odds with the Crusaders and an oasis of culture
surrounded by unappreciative savages.

It was a condition with which he identified. His prodigious work on a
culture previously damned as effete was largely responsible for the
blossoming of Byzantine studies in Britain.

His view of the historian's task - and his belief that one writes to be
read - demanded that he aim as much at a non-specialist audience as at
fellow academics. His lucid style was admirably suited to this, with a
simplicity and dispassion that had been the ideal of Byzantine
iconographers. The popular success that his books enjoyed showed that others
too came to enjoy the labyrinthine complexities of Levantine history.

They had in Runciman a surefooted guide who could render the past visible
and familiar, as in a memorable description of the messianic Peter the
Hermit - "his long, lean face horribly like that of the donkey he always

James Cochran Stevenson Runciman was born in Northumberland on July 7 1903.
He was the second son of Walter Runciman, a member of Asquith's cabinet, and
the grandson of a shipping magnate, Lord Runciman.

Steven's father was created Viscount Runciman of Doxford in 1937 and the
next year led the mission that persuaded the Czech government to make
concessions to Hitler.

Steven's mother was the first woman to take a First in History at Cambridge
and the first wife of an MP also to secure a seat in the Commons. Steven
breathed a rich mixture of political gossip (he would go on to meet all but
three of the 20th century's Prime Ministers).

One of his first memories was of waiting for suffragettes to carry out their
vow to break the windows of the houses of Cabinet Ministers. With their
afternoon walk imminent, Steven and his young sister inquired of the two
burly ladies waiting outside when their protest would begin, since they were
anxious not to miss the fun. The campaigners left in a huff, and the
Runcimans' was the only house left undamaged that afternoon.

Steven could read Latin and Greek by the time he was six. He was a frail
child, with a shyness that he learned to hide but never overcame. In 1916 he
went to Eton as a King's Scholar; the future George Orwell was in the same
election. In his first year, however, Runciman grew seven inches and his
worried parents kept him at home for much of the remainder of his
schooldays. He passed the time reading history books.

Consequently, when he did see his teachers he thought them ill-informed. "I
wish this boy was kinder to me," read one master's report.

In 1921, Runciman went up as a History scholar to Trinity College,
Cambridge. There he found in the fashionable pose of aesthete a mask for his
diffidence. Among those invited to take roseleaf jam in his rooms - home to
a large green parakeet named Benedict - were two other beautiful young men,
the aspiring arbiters of taste Stephen Tennant and Cecil Beaton.

Beaton hastened to copy Runciman's liking for Fair Isle sweaters and used
him as one of his first models, photographing him with a budgerigar on his

Runciman took every opportunity to travel, visiting Istanbul for the first
time in 1924. There he was told by a gypsy, correctly, that he would have
several illnesses but live to a ripe old age. Runciman had a lifelong
fascination with the supernatural (and the naturally superior); he later
read the tarot for King Fuad of Egypt and became court fortune teller to
King George II of the Hellenes.

On graduating in 1924, Runciman approached practically the only scholar then
interested in Byzantine studies, J B Bury, and asked to be his pupil. Bury
initially refused, relenting only when he learned that Runciman could read
Russian; he promptly thrust articles in Bulgarian at him and told him to
come back in two weeks.

Later lessons proved difficult to arrange, as Bury's overprotective wife
took the precaution of burning all letters addressed to him. Runciman was
reduced to waylaying Bury during his daily walk along the Backs.

Runciman's dissertation on a 10th-century Byzantine emperor secured him a
Fellowship at Trinity in 1927, and provided material for his first two
books, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus (1929) and The First Bulgarian Empire

His researches had, however, been interrupted by pleurisy, and in 1925 he
recuperated by sailing to China. In Peking, he was summoned to play piano
duets with the ex-Emperor, Henry Pu Yi, who told him that he had chosen his
forename out of fondness for the Tudors; his chief concubine, whom he hated,
was named Bloody Mary.

When Runciman returned to Cambridge, he found that the college servant with
whom he had boarded his parakeet refused to relinquish the bird, telling him
sternly: "Polly likes it here."

Runciman taught at Cambridge until 1938 and was fondly regarded by his
students, among them Noel Annan and Guy Burgess. He also continued to travel
widely, collecting people and places. His charm brought him friends that
included George Seferis, Benjamin Britten and Edith Wharton, while his taste
for exalted company brought encounters with, among others, the royal houses
of Bulgaria, Romania, Siam and Spain.

He saw much of the world before it subscribed to a uniform culture. In 1934
he visited Bulgaria, encountering the Istanbul-bound Patrick Leigh Fermor,
and on the way back from Mount Athos, Greece, in 1937 helped to deliver a
baby. It was, he said, "a sight no innocent bachelor should see".

In Siam he saw a ghost, which dissolved before his eyes, but missed lunch
with Bao Dai when the young ruler of Vietnam broke his leg playing football;
"not," thought Runciman, "a suitable pastime for an Emperor."

During the Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem at Easter 1931, he and Princess
Alice, who were seated in a gallery, amused themselves by dropping molten
wax from their candles on to the bald patch below of the unpopular garrison
commander; the irate soldier was the future Field-Marshal Montgomery.

In 1937 Runciman inherited a substantial sum from his grandfather. This gave
him the freedom to surrender his Fellowship and concentrate on writing
books. When the Second World War broke out, he was recovering from severe
dysentery and his health meant that he was only offered the untaxing job of
censoring letters written by the Army's Cypriot muleteers. Burgess got him a
job instead with the Ministry of Information and he was soon back in
Bulgaria as press attache.

Runciman always denied that he had in fact been a spy there, but in the
records of the Italian Secret Service, which fell into British hands, he was
rated "molto intelligente e molto pericoloso".

In 1941 the Germans advanced on Sofia, and Runciman narrowly escaped death
when a bomb exploded in the Istanbul hotel to which he had been evacuated.
The device, concealed in the embassy luggage, had been set to explode aboard
the train from Sofia; but the train reached Istanbul an hour early, and the
bomb killed eight people in the lobby as Runciman was inspecting his room.

In 1942 Runciman was appointed, at the Turkish government's request,
Professor of Byzantine Art and History at Istanbul University. There he
researched his history of the Crusades. Having used his diplomatic contacts
to smooth the accession of the young leader of the order, he was also made
an honorary Whirling Dervish.

>From 1945 until 1947 Runciman headed the British Council in Greece, and from
1960 until 1975 he was President of the British Institute of Archaeology at
Ankara, but after the war he concentrated principally on his writing.

Among his later books was his only excursion into modern history, a
biography of the White Rajahs of Sarawak commissioned by the Colonial
Office, but more notable were The Fall of Constantinople, 1453 (1965) and a
compelling analysis of the massacre in 1282 that ended Charles of Anjou's
hopes of controlling the Mediterranean, The Sicilian Vespers (1958).

His study of dualist heresies, The Medieval Manichee (1947), remains a
standard work, while Byzantine Style and Civilisation (1975) is an exemplary
introduction to the subject.

Although he disliked public speaking, Runciman took up many requests to give
lectures so as to see new places, especially in America. In Alaska in 1970
he visited Eskimos who still followed the Russian Orthodox rite, and at Las
Vegas when he played the slot machines he twice hit the jackpot.

Runciman later became fond of the sunshine of Bahrain, but Greece remained
his first love. He was chairman of the Anglo-Hellenic League (1951-67), and
was instrumental in restoring the ill-maintained grave of Rupert Brooke on
the island of Skyros.

He was much honoured by the Greeks, who named a street after him in the
well-preserved Byzantine town of Mistras. He also became Grand Orator of the
Greek Church, historically the senior lay member of the Patriarch's synod.

For many years he kept a house in St John's Wood, London, where he gave
garden parties, but after he and his brother sold the island of Eigg, which
they owned, in 1966, he made his base a peel tower in Dumfriesshire.

There he kept hens and an excellent collection of drawings, including
sketches of Greece by Edward Lear. He was a Councillor Emeritus of the
National Trust of Scotland.

His partial memoirs, A Traveller's Alphabet (1991), recalled places he had
visited from Athos to Zion, but revealed little of himself. In person he
possessed courtesy, wit and culinary skill, and could, when treated as the
fusty academic that he was not, deploy an armoury of filthy stories. Four
hundred guests came to his 90th birthday party; his cake took the shape of
the greatest of all Byzantine churches, Hagia Sophia.

In 1999, he presented the London Library (of which he was the
longest-serving life member) with a much needed new lift. A plaque within in
it bears his name and the Latin inscription Plurimi pertransibunt et
multiplex erit scientia (the Vulgate version of Daniel xii 4: "Many shall
run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased").

Earlier this year, aged 97, he made a final visit to Mount Athos to witness
the blessing of the Protaton Tower at Karyes (the capital of the monastic
community), which had been refurbished thanks to a gift from him.

Steven Runciman was knighted in 1958 and appointed a Companion of Honour in
1984. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1957.

He remained a bachelor, but liked the idea of marrying an elderly Spanish
Duchess in order to become a Dowager Duke; the title, he felt, would have
rather suited him.
Allen Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty

I am reading an excellent novel at the moment called Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst - it won the Book er Prize and is set in London, and more or less in the same milieu, as the time I lived there (1984-1987).

I have to say it is rather alarming to see the period described in the Guardian as "slipping from living memory."


"Halsall" is my stepfather's name, but I have born it all my life, and am proud to have done so. I loved my biological father, but I think it is is important to step up and proclaim that stepparents can be magnificent. Even today, when I feel really bad, I call "Bill". Frankly I'd be happy to call him "Dad", but "Bill" is the name ouf our history together. 15 years after my mum's death, I still feel I have a family because of Bill.

And Halsall is a good name. The attached picture is of Halsall Parish Church, one of the oldest in England. In fact my godson, Nicholas Porter was christened there. The place is in the Domesday Book - it means "on the edge of the marsh" ( "ouse-shale" ).
The Da Vinci Code

At the supermarket today I saw a magazine, Women's World or something like that, with a headline "The Da Vinci Code Diet." I gathered (as I quickly packed my Chardonnay), that the article discussed a diet based on "codes" in the eponymous novel.

The book is badly written: the history in it is garbage: and I have no interest in doing anything that sides with Christian conservatives (who do massively more social damage than Dan Brown ever could), but when it gets to the stage of "coded diets," it's time for serious (or even semi-serious people) NEVER TO MENTION the book again.

Well it Could be Worse

The past few days have been a little bit like a bad comedy. First a simple X-Ray turns out to show a nodule in my lung. That turned 0ut to be OK: No lung cancer. Unfortunately they found 1 cm lymph nodea all over the place - lymphoma?

This will, with any luck, prove to be nothing, but suggestions of lung cancer and then lymphoma in one week are a a bit much to take.

I'll tell you this. If any of this works out, I'm gonna go back to England (all legally). Extreme pain is not in my desired future, and the good Catholic nuns in the UK will use Heroin (small doses/regular bed turnings) if needed.

If AML turns up.....

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

It May be Nothing
Life is odd. Some things freak you, others don't.
Take today. I just got a call from my doctor, saying that "they had found a nodule in my lungs on an X-ray." It did not really help that the doctor himself call me when he got the chest x-ray.
I was a little bit stunned, and felt more than a little discombobulated. I was almost on the point of calling the doctor and asking for Klonopin.
But on further reflection I found I did not need it. I get panned for doing this all the time, but a kind of internal conversation enabled me to control any panic. Some vague hint of an illness will not through me off balance quite yet. Of course, I looked at a couple of websites, and made myself accept that it would be a bit early to worry. [ ]
On the other hand, I think a glass of wine is quite forgiveable right now....
I am who I am: I want Love with Sex: Intelligence without Neurosis: And at this stage I'd rather be dead than compromise.