Chapter 4

in which Father Smith meets his kind Protestant counterpart after praying in his church for the unity of Christians.

For quite a few years now Father Smith had always gone on Saint Andrew's Day to say a prayer in the High Kirk, because the church had once been Catholic and he thought that Saint Andrew might like things better that way.

There was no one in the church except himself, because protestants did not seem to use their churches on weekdays like Catholics, dropping in to say a wee prayer to our Lord between buying the cabbages and seeing about the sultana cake. As he knelt there, with the sun falling in through the stained-glass windows upon the sheen of his old black coat, Father Smith thought away down the centuries back to the days when there had been a high altar in the chancel. There the Augustinian monks had sung their daily High Mass and the passing of the hours had been rhymed on God's wise good clock of matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, and none. The Salve Regina had been sung at night among the shadows of the pillars because the monks had thought that it was only fit to make the same sort of noise in time as they would hear throughout eternity.

These days had gone from Scotland now, and Father Smith prayed that they would soon return, because he knew that only in the poetry of faith could men find happiness and purpose. These days had gone from Scotland because men had been foolish enough to seek to reform from without instead of from within, failing to understand that a doctrine was not necessarily untrue because its adherents did not live up to its implications. And now the Blessed Sacrament and Mary and the Saints were gone too, and men and women were supposed to lead righteous lives without any of the helps which God Himself had instituted.

The priest was not so stupid as not to realize that there were many Protestants who led better lives than a lot of Catholics and belonged to the spirit if not to the body of the Church because they had animae naturaliter christianae. Indeed: it sometimes seemed to him that God had made up to well-intentioned Protestants for the loss of the Faith, through no fault of their own, by allowing them to be better at loving their neighbours than Catholics were, although generally they failed to do so from supernatural motives. Catholics were, of course, better at loving God, and how should they not be, with the furniture of high heaven itself to help them?

Yet it was no use, even out of respect for other people's most sacred feelings, trying to hide the fact that the Protestant heresy had done immense harm to the world at large, if only in securing the general acceptance of the misconception that belief was a corollary of virtue and that a man who beat his wife had no right to believe the Athanasian creed. If it were true that faith was a privilege that diminished in geometric ratio to the practice of sin, Father Smith thought then the hunters of foxes and stags would forfeit the right to believe in even one Person of the Trinity.

It all seemed quite clear to him as he knelt there, praying 'to Andrew and Columba and Kentigem and Margaret, that they should save Scotland for God again. A verger paused to look at him with enquiry and passed on, shaking his head, because he wasn't used to the spectacle of private devotion.

The minister himself was standing in the porch when Father Smith came out of the church. He was the Very Reverend Doctor James Gillespie, D.D., and had once been Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Father Smith always felt humble when he met Doctor Gillespie, because the minister always wore such smart black tailcoats and was invited by the municipality to the opening of electric power stations and waterworks when even his lordship the Bishop was left out. To his surprise, however, the minister took off his glossy top hat as soon as he saw him and smiled most pleasantly.

'I'm very glad indeed to see you, Father Smith,' he said. 'I've been wanting to tell you personally how much I and my congregation deplore the disgraceful events of a fortnight ago.'

'That is very kind of you, Doctor Gillespie, but I assure you that neither the Bishop nor myself doubted for one instant ...'

They got on famously after that. Doctor Gillespie asked Father Smith what he was doing worshipping in the house of Rimmon, and Father Smith said that, as far as he was concerned, the High Kirk wasn't the House of Rimmon at all, but God's old holy place, where he had come to say a prayer on Saint Andrew's Day. The minister looked a little unhappy when the priest said that as though he knew what he had been praying for, and Father Smith understood that Doctor Gillespie wasn't really proud at all, but was a large unhappy man anxious, like himself, that men should come in for Christ's wedding feast. As they walked down the street together, Doctor Gillespie said that it was braver of him to be seen abroad with Father Smith than it was of Father Smith to be seen abroad with him, because nobody would think that there was any chance of his converting Father Smith. Father Smith asked the minister whether the remark was intended as a compliment or an insult and they both laughed, happy that they could unite in mirth if not in prayer.

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