Sunday, December 11, 2016

What's with a saturno?

Red Cappello Romano (or Saturno)
Blessed John Henry, Cardinal Newman's saturno, in the Birmingham Oratory

How could a harmless hat become the object of such strong feelings? Perhaps it is not so strange. My Facebook timeline has filled up with images of, mostly young, priests, wearing the things: posted by themselves. They are trying to say something by wearing it, and we shouldn't be so surprised when people who don't like the message use the hat as a symbol of it.

So what's the message?

1. Saturnos are fun.

You know what? Young priests have a sense of fun. This will perhaps be the aspect of the message which liberals find it hardest to understand. People of my generation, and younger, don't see liberalism as a blessed release from the strictures of the past. We grew up under the liberal jackboot. Liberals were the kill joys, the fun police, the people who like to say 'no'. Catholic culture is all about innocent pleasures, healthy and often edifying pleasures: about music and art and food and family life, about the joys as well as the pains and perils of pilgrimages, about feasting as well as fasting. Liberals hate those things: that, at any rate, was the impression we received.

They would be indulgent, in a sordid and patronising way, towards sinful pleasures, but innocent pleasures seem to be forbidden in liberal institutions, where the detritus of a vandalistic hatred of beauty were, of course, to be seen everywhere. Talking freely with one's friends is turned into a guilty treat which can only be done in secret. Reading books of real value and letting one's mind explore the great intellectual edifices of past thinkers is something only allowed when off-duty. And above all, anything associated with the liturgy which has beauty and artistic value, anything which embellishes or underlines or draws attention to the unvarnished sacramental realities, is totally forbidden.

Clothing of course is a key battleground here. Liberals would like priests to wear a strictly-enforced uniform of jeans and (in Mass) polyester stoles. These do not give joy, they do not raise the soul to God. They are flat, banal, and puritanical. Classical clerical dress was not supposed to be ugly; it is supposed to express the clerical state with differences related to religious order and rank, and it did so with great elegance. The saturno is part of that.

Now I and my clerical peer group are no longer under the oppressive heel of liberal superiors, at least to such an extent, we can wear what we like, whatever the old misery-guts of school and seminary might think.

2. Saturnos are Roman.

It is, in fact, the Roman hat: the capello Romano. For Catholics in Protestant countries, to have some specifically Roman or Italian things around can be a powerful statement of identity, even of defiance. It was important for English Catholics in the 19th century to take possession, again, of the English Gothic style, which had become associated with the Established Church (since they had stolen all our churches), but it is also a joyous thing to see the flamboyantly Italianate Brompton Oratory parking its tanks, so to speak, on the London lawn. It says: yes, we do have a connection with Rome: like it or lump it.

It may sound odd to say it right now, but it is true: Rome is our guarantee of unity and orthodoxy. We are not some miserable little sect based in Milton Keynes or Tunbridge. We are part of the Catholic Church, and if there should be any doubt about what we mean, it is the Roman Catholic Church, and let the Ulster Prots choke on their outrage if they like. We aren't going to spend our lives skulking in the shadows: that was not what Christ's mandate to the Church was. We are going to allow ourselves be identified for what we are.

3. Saturnos are traditional

From M. Sesak This is Rome, published 1960
The connection with Rome is not, as C.S. Lewis once described the Church of England, about agreeing with the latest motions of a debating society. It is a connection with Roman tradition, a tradition which is passed on and manifested in its own way in the cultures of all the nations of the world. What the saturno says today, not despite but because they have not been common for half a century, is that we are not attaching ourselves simply to the latest thing. We are attached to the perennial thing, the thing manifested in the recent past by the saturno, and over the centuries by many different types of clerical dress. Clerical dress (and clerical address: how we address clerics) is something which has been surprisingly fluid over the centuries, and in England in particular has gone through a few revolutions. But right now the saturno speaks of a restoration of continuity, the healing of a specific break in the living tradition of the Church. The partisans of this discontinuity want to place us on the opposite side of an unbridgable chasm from the saturno, and so much else, which was taken for granted 60 or so years ago, and for a priest to wear it today say No! What was sacred then is sacred now. What the wise scribe takes from the treasury is not only what is new, but what is old as well.

The (it must be said, tiny) revival of interest in the saturno is part of a creative, energetic, and also somewhat whimsical and self-deprecating, movement which takes the opportunities it finds to assert continuity, romanitas, and the innocent pleasures of elegant headwear, in the face of the ugly, parochial, and solipsistic pressure to deny those things. Associating the saturno with the attack on 'rigid' young priests may just the thing to make it go mainstream.

For the new world still is all less fair
Than the old world it mocks.

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  1. Well phrased, good Sir!

    Thanks Be to God for His Priesthood and for fine clerical dress!

  2. Oh this is SO Good!

  3. Nice article.

    I hope Pope Francis goes to heaven soon.

  4. As usual Dr Shaw you are bang on target and thank you. There is also of course the tendency in our culture to regard ugliness as more authentic. In this regard, I enjoyed reading The New Philistines by Sohrab Amari - the chap who announced he was converting after Fr Hamel's murder (no, no relation of mine, nor is he from Limerick - pity!)

  5. Holy blessed rigidity! Please God.

  6. One must bear in mind however that it is only black saturnos, tried on substantially in private, that are at fault. Other more ostentatious styles of saturno, worn for puposes global adulation are still just fine:

  7. James - you have just expressed your wish that the Holy Father dies. Unacceptable.