Day 53 of Walking Out of the World. As we leave Dax the countryside changes and we realise that we have left the flat heathland of the Landes behind us. If we could leave the divisions of the Church behind us too, that would be a blessed relief. We make some further effort.
(Previous post: Onesse-Laharie to Dax.)
Making an early start from Dax, we thought we would try the cathedral and see if there was early Mass, as cathedrals often have a more varied timetable, but no: the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Dax had just one weekday Mass at five o’clock in the evening. We wouldn’t even have managed it yesterday, as we arrived in Dax at six. This is the usual problem on a Catholic walking pilgrimage: you leave too early and arrive too late, and that’s just the problem with finding Mass in the churches that are open. Most of the churches on the pilgrim route to Compostela in France and Spain are closed, or maybe open once a month on a Sunday. Dax cathedral was a fairly uninviting space inside, but I suggested we might as well say Morning Prayer, as we were there.
“There’s no priest here to lead Morning Prayer,” said Dirk.
I took out my breviary where the pages were all marked ready with coloured ribbon markers, for Morning Prayer, the Office of Readings, and the Psalter for that week of the year. “Do you have your breviary handy?”
Dirk looked blank.
“That’s OK,” I said. “If you don’t carry one, we can share mine. I’ll lead and pass it to you to say the responses when we get to them. Don’t look so surprised, either! There’s no need for a priest to lead Morning Prayer. We can do it, Dirk! And it’s the same Catholic breviary as you’d find in every Catholic Church, in different language translations of course. Or do you use a pre-1960 breviary in your choice of Catholic prayers?”
“I just go to Mass,” said Dirk. He sat down in the pew next to me.
“Well there isn’t one.” I made the sign of the cross and began the Office. “Oh God, come to our aid.” There was no reply, so I pointed out the response to Dirk.
“O Lord, make haste to help us,” he read. And I started the ‘Glory be…’ and he joined in. The traddy and the libtard were now singing from the same hymn sheet! Half an hour later we were back on the road, and as we left Dax, the countryside seemed to have changed and we realised that we had left the flat heathland of the Landes behind us.
I was excited to know that we would have reached the same latitude as Bayonne and Biarritz by the end of the day, the coastal towns just before you cross the Spanish frontier when going down the Atlantic coast of France. Another milestone. France was nearly done. Unless there was some unforeseen accident or illness, (or the traddy and the libtard murdered each other before the Pyrenees) the walk to Compostela was in my reach.
“I didn’t know you liberal people used the prayer books like that,” said Dirk, after we had been on the road for about an hour, since we said Morning Prayer in Dax cathedral.
“I’m not a ‘liberal’,” I said. “That’s a word you used, a position you took when I said that I’m obedient to the Bishop of Rome. If you choose not to be, and think he’s a ‘heretic’, I can’t really help you with that. I’m not a theologian. I guess you’re not a theologian either. Was that the first time you used the breviary to say Morning Prayer?”
“No, I seen it before some place,” he said. “It’s usually just priests who have those books.”
“The Daily Office is for everyone,” I replied. “Or you can make up any prayers you like, and that’s perfectly fine, and as long as you follow the obligation about Mass attendance there’s not much else that’s prescribed for prayers. It just happens to be a good way to keep some structure in your prayer life, and make sure some things don’t get forgotten.”
“You’re not a liberal, then?”
“Let’s see: you tell me,” I said. “What did you make of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at Regensburg in 2006?”
“Hey! What do I know?” replied Dirk. “He made a whole bunch of speeches! He’s the real Pope! At least I still see him as the Pope. He should never have resigned for that commie Argentine baby-murderer Bergoglio. Elected to the chair of Peter by satanic freemasons and libtard homos!”
“I want to stay with Regensburg for a moment, Dirk. Hear me out. You remember there was a big fuss over Pope Benedict making a speech that criticized Muslims? In fact there was a violent Muslim reaction to what he said…”
“Oh that speech!” exclaimed Dirk. “Sure. I remember he put the Muslims in their place. No pope ever spoke like that before!”
“In fact quite a few popes spoke like that before,” I said. “But the Regensburg speech was not mainly addressed to Muslims: it was aimed at intellectuals in the West. Especially philosophers and theologians who set up some kind of opposition between biblical Christianity against the Greek intellectual inheritance of the Church. It’s the faith v. reason argument.”
“I don’t see where you’re going with this,” said Dirk, who had slowed his pace now, as we walked up the first serious hill since before Bordeaux, way back.
“I thought you were recently out of the military, Dirk? I’m fitter than you and thirty years older!” I slowed my pace too. “If all religion and morality is in the realm of the nonrational or even the irrational and is purely subjective, truth has nothing to do with it. Benedict contrasts this with the great tradition of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In fact, all that Benedict was doing in that speech was simply continuing an argument about faith and reason that began with Pope Leo XIII in the nineteenth century with Aeternum Patris, a theme that Pope John Paul picked up again in Fides et Ratio in 1989… Hey, that was the same year when I met Brother Roger of Taizé who I told you about yesterday! So Benedict developed the theme at Regensburg and it’s one of the great developments in Catholic thinking over two centuries.”
“I still don’t see the point…”
“I’m getting to the point,” I said. We were coming to the crest of the hill where there was a tall concrete Crucifix with a display of red flowers at its foot. “Let’s pause for a moment. I see you’re getting out of breath. I could do with sitting down for a moment too, so I can explain this last bit.”
“Oh my God! Look!” Dirk pointed into the distance. These were the foothills. In the distance, just visible in the haze, we could see the outline of the Pyrenees. We sat down on a bench on the opposite side of the road from the cross and drank some water from our aluminium drinking bottles. There was the cross and the Pyrenees, and behind those mountains the road to Compostela in Spain, the Camino. It was a memorable pilgrimage moment.
“This is fantastic,” I said. “It’s nearly the end of France!” We looked in silence at the scene, like two scouts walking ahead of Moses and the rest of the gang: the first to see the mountains leading to the Promised Land.
“Go on,” said Dirk, as he screwed the black plastic stopper back on his water bottle. “Finish the Pope Benedict speech. I want to know how you make it end.”
“See the dates on this Crucifix?” I said, pointing across the road to the plaque under the feet of Jesus. “Look! 1896 when Leo XIII was Pope and wrote Aeternum Patris… well, just a few years before that date I think. And then underneath, see it? 1987 when John Paul II was Pope, and he wrote Fides et Ratio in 1989. So, Jesus provides the perfect setting to finish my story, Dirk.”
I explained to Dirk how the third stage in this sequence was Faith, Reason and the University, the speech given by Pope Benedict XVI in Regensburg in 2006. His key teaching was this: if all religion and morality is in the realm of the nonrational or even the irrational and is purely subjective, truth has nothing to do with it. Benedict contrasts this with the great tradition of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Benedict carefully made the case that modern rationality is itself dependent upon, and inexplicable apart from, the understanding of reason and the rationality of the world produced by Christianity’s appropriation and development of the Hellenic philosophical tradition. Faith and reason.
“So to finish, Dirk, in my view all arguments about whether or not Catholics think Vatican II was the start of the decline of Church teaching, faith and morals; or skirmishes about whether the Latin Mass or the ‘new’ Mass are the legitimate liturgies; all the accusations and name-calling – ‘libtard’ this, ‘traddy’ that – all of it is a total waste of your energies and mine. If you haven’t yet grappled with the faith and reason argument, all that stuff is going nowhere.”
There was a long silence. We crossed the road and took some photographs by the foot of the cross, and then we went on our way, on the last few kilometres to Sorde l’Abbaye.
“Is there some place you can tell me where I can see that stuff, on the Internet?” said Dirk, a few minutes later as we walked downhill. “Where did you get this?”
“You won’t find it on the Internet, not set out like I just explained it,” I said. “That’s not on the Internet, and it’s not in any book either. In fact it doesn’t exist any more. It was an essay I wrote at the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury a few years ago. My tutor was a bully, a Franciscan friar called Seamus who was also some kind of judo expert, as well as a world authority on the philosopher Duns Scotus. He said my essay was crap and he failed it because I agreed with Benedict’s criticism of Scotus in the Regensburg speech. I tore up the essay.”
“I’m sorry,” said Dirk. “You’re not a libtard, brother. I was only kidding. How did the Church get into this state anyway?”
“Simple,” I replied. “There was this fellow called Adam in a garden, and a lady called Eve…”