David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Quis custodiet ipsos Custodes?


“Who is to guard the guards themselves?” asked the poet Juvenal, or in his famous original Latin, Quis custodiet ipsos Custodes. One foremost guard ought to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, one Rowan Williams, a Welshman, a theologian supposedly of distinction, and the man in whose hands rests the Anglican community at a time of distress and splits and controversies so deep that Europe is openly labeled “post-Christian” and most people think that this fits the facts.

Brecon Cathedral is close to my home in Wales, and a wonderful building it is too, rescued not so very long ago from such neglect that it was virtually a ruin. There has just been an appeal to raise money on behalf of the cathedral choir. I contributed, and this earned me an invitation to a reception at Lambeth Palace, these many centuries the proud and glorious residence of Archbishops of Canterbury on the banks of the Thames as it runs through central London. The palace has medieval and Tudor architecture, fortifications, a vast park, altogether speaking of faith and certainty emblematic of national identity.

The Archbishop lately backed the introduction of sharia law into Britain, thus creating inequality for Muslims in matters that come before sharia courts. This could only have the effect of separating Muslims from the community, and that separation is already bad enough, what with Islamists in our midst threatening jihad and bringing Muslims generally into suspicion, however unfairly.  I had decided that if I had the chance I would explain to the Archbishop that I had spent a lifetime travelling in the Middle East, could read Arabic, and had observed the damage done by sharia law to those Muslim countries that had it, and how reformers wanted to scrap it in favour of normal civil law.

And there the Archbishop stood — small, bearded, wizened — at the top of a grand staircase with military trophies on the walls, and woe is me, it seemed rude to take him on in his own palace.

Now it’s Christmas, and personalities of all sorts are customarily invited to select their favourite books of the year. In the Times Literary Supplement, surely as prestigious an outlet as any available, the Archbishop of Canterbury chooses to promote a biography of another Welshman, Raymond Williams (no relation!). He speaks of this other Williams as a “moral touchstone” of the British Left, engaged in “passionate struggles” and concluding “More to come, I hope.”

In simple fact Raymond Williams was a stale old Marxist who never freed his mind. Not even the Nazi-Soviet Pact could shake him. When the Soviet Union attacked Finland in 1940 Raymond Williams collaborated with another veteran Communist, E.J.Hobsbawm, to write a defence of this aggression. Neither of them ever recanted.

If the man supposed to be guarding our faith is actually engaged in apologetics on behalf of Muslims and Communists, how are the rest of us to guard ourselves?


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