Tuesday, November 18, 2003

From the late Archbishop Robert Dwyer

November 5, 1965


“Here we are approaching the climacteric and consummation of the Second Vatican Council, and no Cardinal or Bishop has had his beard pulled in the sacred aula of St. Peter’s. This comes as a grievous disappointment to many. It was in the confident expectation that beard-pulling would be a daily distraction among the Venerable Brethren that we envisaged our stay in Rome, only to have our rebarbative imagination sadly dampened by dull reality.

“We had toyed, actually, with the notion of encouraging the growth of a patriarchal beard on our own chin, in the hope that some fellow prelate equally hirsute would challenge us to discover whose appendage possessed the stronger roots, but our glabrous cells, alas, could produce no more than a faint mockery, the merest six o’clock shadow, and we desisted with a sigh.

“If we are to believe those historians whose delight it is to serve up the more unedifying tid-bits of ecclesiastical gossip, beard-pulling was once a fairly common Conciliar practice. Hendrik Willem van Loon (has his name been revived this quarter-century?) once painted a vigorous picture of Athanasius and Arius hard at it filling Nicaea with clots of blood and tufts of beard, but it is to be feared that his fervent fancy outran his meager store of facts. Chalcedon witnessed many a sharp confrontal, and during the unhappy centuries when Rome and Constantinople were agreeing to disagree, there were several bouts of beard-pulling which made the contemporary equivalent of the Time-Newsweek reports. But when Trent rolled around the practice was already in desuetude, and only one lonely instance was somewhat doubtfully recorded of Vatican I. A pity, but so perish all our cherished customs of yesteryear.”


This is from Ecclesiastes, a book for which I have been searching for a good many years. It just came today, courtesy of “John R. Thompson, Bookseller” of West Grove, Pennsylvania. It is a selection of the writings of the late Archbishop Dwyer of Portland, Oregon. Those of us who knew the Catholic press of 40 years ago remember well the rich style, wit, and insight of Archbishop Dwyer.

Well before the council he predicted the collapse of orders of women religious. It would not be due, he said, to some conciliar machinations or psychological mumbo-jumbo but to the failure of the American episcopate to treat women religious as religious first and foremost. Instead, they were often treated primarily as cheap labor and their vocations not respected. Treated that way long enough, they would eventually act that way and search for better employment. His historical essays could be profound, such as his comparisons of Vatican I and Vatican II, or more ephemeral but very witty, such as that quoted above or his attempt to determine exactly when episcopal wigs went out of fashion. (This last was not, alas, included in this collection it appears.)

More later from His Excellency as I make my way through the volume.