Sunday, January 09, 2005

Gilbert & Sullivan, ET and the Second Vatican Council

The ever-readable Meredith (who doesn't post half-often enough!) references one of my posts. She writes on the topic of Catholic Gilbert & Sullivan Parodies. She cites Knox as being a particuarly early example, and then quotes a parody from Michael Novak's 1961 novel The Tiber was Silver who put it in the mouths of North American College Seminarians. The following line in particular struck me:
I'll study probabilities and probably pontificate
On what we'll find in outer space or on the moon (at any
In the run up to the Second Vatican Council the bishops of the world were polled to ascertain what they wished to discuss at the upcoming council. Many were perplexed and quite a number of submissions reveal a certain parochialism or lack of vision when compared to the magnitude and importance of the Conciliar documents themselves. It is said of one respected preconciliar Irish theologian that he thought that all major issues of dogma had been settled and that the only issue he could imagine the Council settling was a clearer defintion of what constituted menial work on a Sunday. Probably the most honest submission was from a missionary bishop based, if I recall correctly, on some island in the Pacific Ocean who eventually replied to the repeated requests for a submission with the apology that he was but a simple pastor and did not think he had anything useful to contribute.
However, probably the most unintentionally amusing submission (and the lines above reminded me of this) is that of the then Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle (Archepiscopus Vashingtonensis) who in his list of Res Fidei includes:
5. De possibilitate existentiae creaturarum rationalium in aliis

He then went on to explain that he wanted to Council to ascertain whether the dogmas of the Incarnation and Redemption excluded this possibility and expressed the wish that Church teaching might be harmonious with modern science. (And lest I be disbelieved, those of you with access to a decent theological library can find the Archbishop's letter in the Acta of the Council, Series I, Vol II, Pars VI pp463-4.)
The Archbishop's letter dates to 1959, so it'd be nice to think that Novak somehow got word of its contents before writing the above pardoy. However, it's far more likely that then as now, the implications of space travel and extraterrestrial life was a popular extra-curricular debate amongst aspiring theologians.

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