Rant Number 422 17 December 2010
Outside the British parliament in Westminster stands a statue. A sturdy, somewhat stern and forbidding male figure, looking as firm and as solid as a rock. In his right hand he holds a sword, in the other a book. The tourist hordes daily traipsing by hardly notice him but they and the natives should. The man matters, especially at Christmastime. Because when he ruled England that man’s parliament banned Christmas.
The book Oliver Cromwell – it is he – clutches is the Bible. His Bible-orientated regime forbade Christmas. Correction: the much-maligned Puritans did not quite do that. They prohibited the popular, neo-pagan rites and merry-making which had come to overlay the feast of the Nativity – the coming into the world of God’s eternal, uncreated Word. All stuff reminiscent of the Roman Saturnalia, the pre-Christian festivals the birth of the Holy Child replaced. Cromwell and the Puritans, such as the great poet John Milton, did worship the Saviour of the World, of course. They did so very devoutly. And they took the Bible, God’s Word, most seriously. Indeed, Puritan legislation enshrined the Ten Commandments. But they did object to the un-Christian rubbish which had crept in the celebrations. Father Frank ain’t a Puritan – as an erstwhile Anglo-Catholic he revels in the human side of the Incarnation too much – but he does admire those godly Englishmen’s intensity of faith. 400 years later, their spirit still has a lesson to teach.
‘England had ceased to be, in any real sense, a Christian nation’. Thus wrote historian A.J. P. Taylor of the England of 1928. However, he granted that, even if no longer Christian in theology or faith, the nation’s institutions then still upheld a Christian moral outlook. The BBC, directed by the fierce Calvinist Lord Reith, ‘stamped Christian morality on the British people’, according to the very Whiggish, not quite unbiased Taylor. 80 years on, even that is true no longer. The BBC openly advocates and encourages filth and fornication, without shame, at all times of the day. As to faith, ditto. This morning, on BBC Radio 4, the trivial John Humphreys interviewed two supposedly qualified females. Why are people obsessed with a white Christmas? The wittering responses ranged conventionally from the Elizabethans to Dickens and to our contemporary, mawkish cult of children – and booze. One thing no one dreamt of mentioning, though, even de passage: that the Christmas festival is not about snow but above all about God. And about the birth of one special child, the Holy Babe of Bethlehem. It is not that the disgraceful trio were ashamed, or afraid of naming him, I surmise. Probably it never entered presenter and guests’ minds to do so. Christ has not stopped at Eboli – the God-forsaken, primitive Southern Italian town that gave the name to Carlo Levi’s book – this time he has been stopped on the official airwaves of the most ‘civilised’ country in the world, England. He has been quietly forgotten, ignored, barred from whatever serves the BBC crowd for heart and mind.
Some good folks in this country are living under a grotesque delusion. England is a monarchy and because of the historical entanglement of the monarchy with the Church of England, the assumption still lingers that this is somehow a Christian country. 26 Anglican bishops sit by right in the House of Lords – though it is hard to see what Christian good they do there. Our coinage bears the word ‘FD’ – fidei defensor – Defender of the Faith after the Queen’s name. Never was a title more quaint, more anachronistic, more absurd. Pope Leo X bestowed it on Henry VIII, in recognition of his having penned the tract ‘Defence of the Seven Sacraments’, against the heresies of Martin Luther. Shortly afterwards horrid Henry went on to renounce the Papacy and to wreck faith and sacraments in his greed-driven ‘reformation’. Still, as long as England was Christian – people went to church and followed the Bible - the title had some symbolic significance. To day, it has none. Worse, it is an obscene mockery. The British parliament in the last 40 years has passed legislation that is a right negation of basic Christian ethics and doctrine. The Queen is personally beyond reproach but the mass of her subjects live as if Christ had never been born.
There are, I admit, still a few Christians left in England. They would benefit from December 25th being officially made a secular holiday. It would please secularists (one must love one’s enemies, after all...) and at a stroke remove the equivocation. Those whose heart burns with love for the Prince of Peace, the Holy Child whom God sends into the world to save it, could still worship him in sincerity and in truth. The bishops could be tossed out from the upper chamber and could better occupy their time by preaching the word of God. (See how naive the priest is? He still gives the bishops a chance!) A godly, peaceful, Christian revolution, methinks.
It would of course be necessary to change Christmas’ name. The wicked nonsense now is that we have a national feast named after Christ, whilst Christ’s meaning and message are neglected, derided and denied by the people who unthinkingly mouth the word ‘Christmas’. A bit like speaking of a ‘Great Britain’ when referring to a nation which is no longer great but self-doubting, adrift and puny. It would be better if the country was named ‘Ukania’. Or, perhaps, ‘Parva Britannia’, little Britain. As for Christmas...I don’t know. Maybe ‘Yob-Yule’? Or ‘Paganfest’? Maybe it could be called ‘Beckamia’. Dedicated to the cult of that most insipid, empty-headed hero of our imbecilic time, David Beckham? I am open to suggestions, anyway.
Is this pessimistic? By no means. Christmas is the feast of Christ’s nativity. It is followed by Easter, the great festival of the Resurrection. Birth and death are not the whole story for Christians. The Holy Child grew up to fulfil his divine mission, suffered, was killed and buried. The scumbags thought they had disposed of him for good. But...lo and behold! The tomb is empty. Christ is alive! No earthly ruler can stop him. He is out in the world. And be warned – he is coming back to judge it!
Revd Frank Julian Gelli