Wednesday, 11 March 2015

1954 was Before the Clerical Scandals

From the biography of Alec Guiness, as condensed* in Wiki:

While serving in the Royal Navy, Guinness had planned to become an Anglican priest. However, in 1954, while he was filming Father Brown in Burgundy, Guinness, who was in costume as a Catholic priest, was mistaken for a real priest by a local child. Guinness was far from fluent in French, and the child apparently did not notice that Guinness did not understand him, but took his hand and chattered while the two strolled; the child then waved and trotted off. The confidence and affection the clerical attire appeared to inspire in the boy left a deep impression on the actor. When their son was ill with polio at the age of eleven, Guinness began visiting a church to pray. A few years later in 1956 Guinness converted to the Roman Catholic Church. His wife followed suit in 1957 while he was in Sri Lanka filming The Bridge on the River Kwai, and she informed him only after the event. Every morning, Guinness recited a verse from Psalm 143, "Cause me to hear your loving kindness in the morning".

I saw him not as Father Brown, but as Obi Wan Kenobi in 1977. What an irony that by 1987 I would be a great Father Brown buff, and only now know that Alec Guiness had played Father Brown as well. Further irony : if Father Brown actor Alec Guiness recited Psalm 142 (the wiki goes after protestant numbering of Psalms, Catholic / Orthodox 142 = Protestant / Jewish 143), the next psalm 143 is recited by the Protestant version of Father Brown, police inspector Hans Bärlach of Bern. Because Dürrenmatt just had to be a Protestant version of Chesterton.

142:8 Cause me to hear thy mercy in the morning; for in thee have I hoped. Make the way known to me, wherein I should walk: for I have lifted up my soul to thee.

Auditam fac mihi mane misericordiam tuam, quia in te speravi. Notam fac mihi viam in qua ambulem, quia ad te levavi animam meam.

143:3 Lord, what is man, that thou art made known to him? or the son of man, that thou makest account of him?

Domine, quid est homo, quia innotuisti ei? aut filius hominis, quia reputas eum?

In France, someone has called Ouellebecq a pessimist version of Chesterton, but the honour already belongs to Dürrenmatt. Which brings us back to Chesterton, to Alec Guiness playing his Father Brown, to Catholic priests in 1954 being people one could leave one's children with without any fear. Most are still so, those who weren't came around, mostly, by Vatican II softening of discipline.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St Eulogius of Corduba

* Wiki cites, for this section:

  • Pearce, Joseph. Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief. London: Ignatius Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-58617-159-9., p. 301.

  • "Sir Alec Guinness." Telegraph (Obituaries), 8 August 2000. Retrieved: 26 August 2009.

  • Sutcliffe, Tom. "Sir Alec Guinness (1914–2000)." The Guardian, 7 August 2000. Retrieved: 26 August 2009.

  • Pearce etc. 2006, p. 311.

  • The invisible man, by Hugh Davies, originally published in the Telegraph and reprinted in The Sunday Age, 13 August 2000. (no link to online versions)

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