Perhaps the greatest trauma of my school-days were the art classes. They would sit us down with some rather stiff paint brushes and a few pots of paints, and tell us to paint something. I don’t think that there was any other subject where so little instruction was given. When we began Latin, our teacher didn’t just throw us a copy of the Aeneid and tell us to get on with it.

However, I suspect that I could have sat at the feet of Michelangelo for a dozen years and been no better off. My lack of talent in the visual arts was innate, complete. While other boys would come up with a passable imitation of a cloud or a horse, or whatever it was, my efforts would prompt the derision of my peers and the kindly silence of the master. How I used to dread those classes, as others must have dreaded P.E. or double maths.

Yet having no skill in painting needn’t stop one talking about it. Who would not, asked Plutarch, rather contemplate a sculpture of Phidias than sculpt it? And even if he was only being (as Maritain says) a snobby pagan, I suppose that someone who doesn’t know a hammer from a chisel may still commission a marble.

So, here are four paintings that I should like someone to paint. All involve meetings that have really happened, but which, as far as I know, have not yet been represented in this way.

The first is a meeting between Newman, Pusey and Keble. It didn’t happen in the hey-day of the Oxford Movement, but long after Newman had converted. An elderly man now, and finding himself once more in Oxford, he made an unannounced call on his dear Keble, whom he hadn’t seen since 1845. He didn’t know that Pusey, whom he also hadn’t seen since then, and with whom his relations were particularly strained, was visiting at the same time. When the front door was opened, Newman and Keble were so uncertain of who the other one was that they had to show each other their cards; and Pusey, siting inside, spontaneously shrank back from Newman’s gaze.

What a painter could do with that scene: doubt, dawning recognition, painful affection, and unbridgeable separation, would be portrayed on all their faces.

The next two meetings happened a bit later, both in the late 1880’s. One of them also involved Newman. A very old man now, and a cardinal, he was giving out the prizes at the Oratory school. One of the successful school-boys was Hilaire Belloc. What a meeting: the old man, with his frail body and penetrating gaze, the young man, with a certain fine unconscious arrogance, each admiring and pitying the other, while unbeknownst to either the torch of Catholic England was passed on!

The other is quite famous. It occurred when Therese of Lisieux, I think at the age of 14, visited Rome with a group from her parish, and got to see Pope Leo. Instead of just kneeling to kiss his ring and moving away like the other pilgrims, she placed her hands on the old man’s knees and looked up imploringly into his face, asking him to let her enter Carmel, until finally she had to be dragged off by the Swiss guards.

Like the meeting of Newman and Belloc, this would be a study in contrasts. Only here there would be a note of humour: armed guards having to deliver the pontiff from the importunity of a school-girl, and in the background her parish priest fretting. ‘I told them all quite clearly that no one was to speak to the Holy Father. That Martin girl is simply impossible. She’ll come to a bad end, that’s only too plain.”

The final one was photographed, but I do not know that it has been painted. It is the meeting of Archbishop Lefebvre and Padre Pio, not long before the latter’s death. The archbishop had made the pilgrimage to San Giovanni to ask St Pio’s prayers for the seminary he was intending to found. He asked the Capuchin for a blessing, but St Pio naturally said, in effect: ‘Me bless an archbishop? Of course not; it is you who must bless me’, and he knelt to receive it.

If an artist painted that right, I think we should have the impression of two prophets, each with an incommunicable burden, brought together by divine providence for a brief moment to their mutual solace, as the chaos and darkness grew around them.

So, I have had the ideas: and is that not the principal part of every work of art? As for the bit with the camel hair and the wet stuff, well, I leave that to others.

Islam is not simply a revolution brought about by Arabs who, bored of living under their tents, were stirred up by a gifted leader to make a sudden conquest of the most opulent cities of the East. Rather, God allowed the ancient enemy of mankind to have a special opportunity, and to choose an instrument by which he might lead nations astray, enslaving them by the sword. And so there arose Mahomet, the man of Satan, and the Koran, his gospel.

But what was the crime which induced divine justice to go to such an extremity, abandoning nations to a slavery of which we can still see no end? Heresy: for heresy is a dreadful crime which makes the coming of the Son of God into this world to be of no avail.  It refuses the word of God; it tramples upon the infallible teaching of the Church. Such a crime must be punished, in order that Christian peoples may learn that no nation resists the revealed words without the danger of suffering, even in this world, the penalty of its rash ingratitude. And so Alexandria fell, though it was Peter’s second see, and Antioch, where he had first been bishop, and Jerusalem, keeper of the glorious Tomb.

The tide was stopped in front of Constantinople, and did not immediately overflow the regions that surrounded it. The Eastern empire, soon to become the Greek empire, was given the opportunity to learn a lesson. Had Byzantium watched over the faith, then Omar would not have come to Alexandria, nor to Antioch, nor to Jerusalem. A delay was granted; it lasted for eight centuries. But when Byzantium had filled up its measure, then the Crescent appeared once more in vengeance. No longer is it the Saracen, who is a spent force, but rather the Turk. Hagia Sophia will see its Christian images whitewashed, with verses from the Koran painted over them. And this is the reason: it had become the sanctuary of schism and of heresy. [. . .]

It dared to penetrate even into the land of France. But a hard expiation it had to do for its boldness, on the plains of Poitou. Islam had made a mistake; where there is no heresy, there it can find no foothold. [. . .]

We shall stop here, having acknowledged the justice of God in regard to heresy, and the true reason of the victories of Islam. We have seen the only reason why God permitted Islam to arise, and why it did not remain an obscure and ephemeral sect in the deserts of Arabia.

We can remember also the words of Leo XIII in Exeunte Iam Anno:

The impartial and unchangeable justice of God metes out reward for good deeds and punishment for sin. But since the life of peoples and nations, as such, does not outlast their world, they necessarily receive the rewards due to their deeds on this earth.

The London Times is visibly descending into insanity. The principal article in it today, by the columnist Daniel Finkelstein, argues that while people should be arrested for public nudity at the moment because it is against the law, nevertheless people have been getting used to increasing degrees of undress over the last century, and a day will come when people will be ready for complete public nudity, which will then become the law, and that will be no problem, you see, because it will be the law.

Not infrequently, too, God, in order to chastise their pride, does not permit men to see the truth, and thus they are punished in the things wherein they sin. This is why we often see men of great intellectual power and erudition making the grossest blunders even in natural knowledge (‘Tametsi’, Leo XIII, no. 9).

Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that flow from divorce. Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable; mutual kindness is weakened; deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied; harm is done to the education and training of children; occasion is afforded for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of dissension are sown among families; the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men. Since, then, nothing has such power to lay waste families and destroy the mainstay of kingdoms as the corruption of morals, it is easily seen that divorces are in the highest degree hostile to the prosperity of families and States, springing as they do from the depraved morals of the people, and, as experience shows us, opening out a way to every kind of evil-doing in public and in private life.

Further still, if the matter be duly pondered, we shall clearly see these evils to be the more especially dangerous, because, divorce once being tolerated, there will be no restraint powerful enough to keep it within the bounds marked out or presurmised. Great indeed is the force of example, and even greater still the might of passion. With such incitements it must needs follow that the eagerness for divorce, daily spreading by devious ways, will seize upon the minds of many like a virulent contagious disease, or like a flood of water bursting through every barrier.

– Leo XIII, Arcanum (1880)

The question arises because of the principle that the family is the basic unit of society. This principle is often affirmed but rarely explained. Of course if it is affirmed by a politician who thinks that a family is whatever Leviathan says it is, then it is worse than useless; but even with someone who has a sane understanding of the family, it may mean no more than ‘I like families’ or ‘families should be supported’.

Properly understood, it appears to mean that political power arises not in virtue of an implied contract between individuals, the theory rejected by Leo XIII in Diuturnum, but through a concession or pooling of the natural power of parents over their children. If we accept this, then societies are  by definition a union of families, not of individuals.

But if families are to retain their rightful position as the fundamental units of society, each family must speak with a united voice in its relation to the outside world. If husband and wife speak with opposite voices in regard to the election of rulers or the determination of policy, the authority of the family in regard to the State is annulled; the family is in effect silenced.

So it must be either husband or wife who votes in elections or referenda. But for it to be the wife would be a denial of the husband’s headship, and would degrade him in her eyes. So it must be the husband.

This does not exclude suffrage for widows; nor, I think, for single women living alone, who may perhaps be regarded as the beginning of a new family.

It is a scene itself worthy of a poem, or a painting. Leo, bishop of Rome, thirteenth of that name, now in the ninetieth year of his age, the fifty-seventh of his episcopacy, and the twenty second of his supreme pontificate,  looks out upon the world from his home or prison in Rome on the 31st December 1899. For decades now this old man, one of the wisest of our race, has striven to hold back the advance of antichrist by prayer and intelligence. As he looks back in sadness upon the nineteenth century and forward in trepidation upon the twentieth, his spirit is touched by some afflatus, and uniting his youthful learning to his long experience he composes an Alcaic poem, offering the world to its Saviour.

Notice these two stanzas:-

Auditis? effert impia conscius/ insanientis grex sapientiae; brutaeque naturae supremum/  nititur asseruisse numen.

Nostrae supernam gentis originem/  fastidit excors; dissociabilem,/  umbras inanes mente captans,/  stirpem hominum pecudumque miscet.

That is, ‘Hear ye? A guilty herd comes out with the godless things of a raving wisdom; it strives to establish the supreme divinity of brute nature. Foolishly it disdains the heavenly origin of our race; grasping at empty shadows it confuses the irreconcilable ancestry of men and of beasts.’

Though he doesn’t seem to have considered it opportune to condemn ex cathedra the idea of Adam’s body descending from a beast, Pope Leo clearly held it to be an idea belonging to the insane wisdom of this world.

In disentangling the question of religious liberty it seems useful to distinguish four typical cases of coercion:-

(1) Coercion by the spiritual power of the baptised

(2) Coercion by the spiritual power of the unbaptised

(3) Coercion by the temporal power of the baptised

(4) Coercion by the temporal power of the unbaptised

It is a matter of faith that (1) is licit. According to the 14th Canon of Trent on baptism, the baptised can be coerced to a Christian life by certain penalties, other than by simple refusal of the sacraments. The present Code of Canon Law allows for certain people to be deprived of their jobs or confined within a monastery as a punishment for heresy. In a Catholic society, the bishop could call on the civil power to help enforce such penalties. That would, however, still be an example of coercion (1) in my schema, since I am considering who the prime mover is in the coercion.

(2) is generally illicit, since the unbaptised are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Church. Nor can she ask the civil power e.g. to freeze the bank accounts of Muslims so that they will be induced to convert. However St Thomas believes that the Church has the radical power to deprive independent pagan rulers of their jurisdiction over the faithful (IIa IIae 10,10), only she doesn’t use it, so as to avoid scandal. He says that the Church has the radical power to do this, ‘having the authority of God’, and pagan rulers have merited  – since they would not even be negative infidels without some mortal sin – to lose their dominion. I am not quite sure how this fits with the idea of baptism as what gives the Church jurisdiction over people. Perhaps one could say that she would not be exercising her own jurisdiction, but being a pure instrument of God’s jurisdiction. In any case, it is purely hypothetical, as St Thomas explains, never being done ‘so as not to scandalise them’.

(3) appears to be illicit in the sense that the civil power cannot legitimately impose penalties for heresy, schism and apostasy except at the will, implicit or explicit of the ecclesiastical power. From the very fact that the spiritual power is higher than the temporal power, the latter must yield to the former when they deal with the same subject-matter.

(4) is perhaps the most controversial point. St Thomas teaches (IIa IIae 10,11), in words that are used by Leo XIII for discussing the same subject, that the rites of pagans (the Jews are a special case) are per se to be suppressed because they are sinful, except when this would lead to some greater evil or prevent some greater good. But from whom is the initiative to come, ecclesiastics or politicians? Since the pagans would be under the jurisdiction of the latter, it would seem to come from them. The civil ruler is the one who has the charge of the temporal common good, and so it seems to be he who must decide, e.g. if a small group of Muslims who have taken refuge in his Catholic country after a civil war back home should be allowed a mosque or not. The question then arises of how a refusal by the civil ruler of the Muslims’ request would square with Dignitatis Humanae. I think it can do if you take into account the clause about ‘public morality’ in DH as a reason to limit religious liberty. In the actual order of providence, every non-Catholic cultus tends to weaken the clarity with which the average citizen, not specially firm in the faith, grasps the truth of the Catholic Church as the one ark of salvation; which surely is a ‘moral’ truth, and therefore a matter of public morality. Only, unlike the case with (1), the civil rulers here cannot aim at coercing the beliefs of the pagans, since, as DH teaches, no merely human power has jurisdiction over the conscience as such.