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Pi in the High

May 22, 2009

MascallDr Eric Mascall dedicated his little book of verse to “Austin and Katherine Farrer, my patient audience”, which summons up a picture for me of the three of them in the Warden’s Lodgings of Keble College, Oxford, laughing at some of the shafts of wit Mascall directs at religious and philosophical targets.

My favourite (surprise, surprise!) is entitled “The Ultra-Catholic”. The book has long been out of print, so here it is:

I am an Ultra-Catholic – No “Anglo-“, I beseech you!

You’ll find no trace of heresy in anything I teach you.

The clergyman across the road has whiskers and a bowler,

But I wear buckles on my shoes and sport a feriola.

My alb is edged with deepest lace, spread over rich black satin;

The Psalms of David I recite in heaven’s own native Latin,

And though I don’t quite understand those awkward moods and tenses,

My ordo recitandi’s strict Westmonasteriensis.


I teach the children in my school the Penny Catechism,

Explaining how the C of E’s in heresy and schism.

The truths of Trent and Vatican I bate not one iota.

I have not met the rural Dean. I do not pay my quota.

The Bishop’s put me under his “profoundest disapproval”

And, though he cannot bring about my actual removal,

He will not come and visit me or take my confirmations:

Colonial prelates I employ from far-off mission stations.

The music we perform at Mass is Verdi and Scarlatti.

Assorted females form the choir; I wish they weren’t so catty.

Two flutes, a fiddle and a harp assist them in the gallery.

The organist left years ago, and so we save his salary.

We’ve started a “Sodality of John of San Fagondez”

Consisting of the five young men who serve High Mass on Sundays;

And though they simply will not come to weekday Mass at seven,

They turn out looking wonderful on Sundays at eleven.

The Holy Father I extol in fervid perorations,

The Cardinals in curia, the Sacred Congregations;

And, though I’ve not submitted yet, as all my friends expected,

I should have gone last Tuesday week, had not my wife objected.


I don’t have a scanner, but I’ll get a friend to scan in the drawing of the Ultra-Catholic that accompanies this poem in Pi in the High. The book is full of such whimsical drawings by Barbara Jones. Dr Mascall ends his preface (where he hopes he hasn’t made enemies or offended friends) with this lovely sentence:

“I would therefore plead that what was written without malice may be read without umbrage, and if any remain offended I would remind them that to take oneself too seriously is bad theology.”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2009 2:31 am

    What’s the “Penny Catechism”? Were copies of the catechism sold to Sunday-school children at cut-throat rates?



    • May 26, 2009 2:13 pm

      It does sound as if the poor little mites were robbed of their pennies as they came into Sunday School. I googled it and got it in full; it is the old Catholic catechism which began V/ “Who made you?”; R/ “God made me”, which is a bit further advanced than the Prayer Book Catechism, in which any simpleton can get the first question right: V/ What is you name?

  2. David O'Rourke permalink
    May 29, 2009 11:50 pm

    “Who made you? God made me,” Why did God make you? God made me top kinow loveand serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next.”

    There! after opver 60 years I still remember the forst two questions and answers. Would that more did. They are really fundamental.

    In Canada we knew ther Catechism as the Catechism of the Council of Trent and later as The Baltimore Catechism (from teh Provincial Council of Baltimore in the 19th cent). it was first rate and should be brought back.

    I have a copy of Fr. Mascall’s book in perfect condition. I think my favouirite has always beeb “The Protestant Home in Danger.”

    Greetings from St. Thomas’s Huron St. in Toronto to St. Clement’s in Philly where, as I’ve said before, I am proud to have my initials painted into one of the jewels on one of the wisemen sleeping over the north door of the church to the narthex.

  3. May 30, 2009 2:17 am

    Thank you for your comments. I love the wise men on the north door, and am so happy you value your initials there.

    I knew Dr Mascall while he was at St Mary’s, Bourne St, and enjoyed his marvellous sense of humour and deep love of the Catholic faith.

    Then, years later, I lived in his rooms in the Presbytery there. I felt like the Apostolic Succession!

  4. ivy wheeler permalink
    December 22, 2010 3:52 pm

    I love Pi in the High
    My copy is around somewhere but lost at the moment in the stacks of
    books in the house.
    I was quoting last night
    Hark the herald angels sing
    Bultmann is the latest thing
    or they would if he had not
    demythologized the lot

    There are other pieces in my memory
    The book was a secret joy when I was a theology student.
    I remember one of my professors giving it to me with glee.

    I have other pieces in my memory.

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