EDITOR’S NOTE: On Thursday, November 17, National Review celebrated William F. Buckley’s 80th birthday at the Pierre in New York City. Among those in attendance, paying WFB tribute, was Rev. George W. Rutler pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan. Below are his remarks, as prepared.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ad multos gloriosque annos. Many more happy years.
As we all are aware, today marks an historic birthday, the 250th birthday of King Louis XVIII. Some 170 years later William F. Buckley Jr. was born and we honor him tonight. When Cardinal Newman was given the red hat of a cardinal, Punch magazine said, “Tis the great and good head that will honor the hat, not the hat that will honor the head.” William F. Buckley Jr. this evening honors us by allowing us to honor him.
In the year Bill was born, the leading films were The Big Parade with John Gilbert, The Gold Rush with Charlie Chaplin and The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney. We look forward this evening to Bill’s own film which will be a talkie.
It is customary on birthdays to invoke the celebrant’s patron saint. But there are several Saint Williams and none of them exactly fits William Buckley. St. William of Roskilde was chaplain to King Canute and unsuccessfully tried to convert Scandinavia. No similarity. Then there was Saint William of Montevergine who died in 1142 after reforming an immoral woman by threatening her with hot coals. That will not do. Saint William of Maleval who died in 1157 was a dissolute soldier who repented on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and lived the rest of his life in Siena in desolate squalor. No parallel. Then there was a Saint William and his wife, who both became hermits, dressed in rough garments, and took perpetual vows of silence. No. Saint William of York was poisoned in 1154 by someone who disapproved of his writings. This is possible.
But I think that in lieu of finding a patron saint, we should urge Bill not to flag or falter along the path of sanctity himself so that he may someday be known as Guilielmus Neo-Eboracensis–William of New York–patron saint of publishers, writers, television hosts, public debaters, political candidates, navigators, harpsichordists, logicians, kingmakers, etymologists, world revolutionaries, and speech therapists. Having accomplished all that, it is tempting to think that Bill, who has been practicing infallibility for years, is now just about the right age to run for the papacy.
On this day in 1632 the pope named Cardinal Richelieu Protonotary Apostolic in France (not to be confused with a Prothonotary warbler). Richelieu is not considered a saint, but among his many accomplishments he started the secret police. When dying, his chaplain asked if he forgave his enemies. Richelieu replied, “There are none left.” One day, which civilization selfishly prays will be many years hence, when Bill is gathered all above, he too will be able to say that he has no enemies left–not because of the secret police, but because he has charmed them all into moral and intellectual submission.
Of Bill’s many virtues, he has polished one that is greatly neglected in our day: the classical virtue of pietas–that piety which is a reverence for our ancestors and the tradition of the brightest and best. My favorite quotation of Bill is actually of his mother, who looked at herself in a mirror and remarked, “Isn’t it amazing that anyone so old can be so beautiful.”
Tonight as we give thanks for William F. Buckley Jr., we remember the souls of his forebears who paved his way, we give thanks for his family in their mutual delight, and, may the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit continue to bless him with strength and health, and bless our friendship, our entertainment, and this good feast, making us always mindful of the needs of others. Amen.