Trinity College and the Bible

New TCD crest a turnaround

Years ago, Irish Catholics might have been pleased that Trinity College Dublin was changing its logo, and removing its Bible from the crest – as a conscious act of ‘inclusivity’.

When I was growing up in Dublin, Trinity was still a bastion of the old Protestant Ascendency: Catholics were forbidden to enter its portals partly because it was founded by Elizabeth I in the Tudor period with the express aim of eradicating the Papist faith from Ireland. Sir John Mahaffy, the renowned classicist who became Provost of Trinners (and shot at 1916 rebels from behind its gates), described the university as “the only English foundation that ever succeeded in Ireland”.

And I suspect that John Charles McQuaid, the fierce Archbishop of Dublin – a Cavan man by birth – also prohibited Trinity to his flock as an act of political retaliation: when he was a lad, Trinity itself refused to admit Catholics.

Historically, that Bible on the crest of TCD was a symbol of Elizabeth I’s purpose. 

Yet today, many Catholics probably won’t applaud the decision to drop it. The Bible belongs to all Christians (and the Old Testament to Jews, too) and is a powerful symbol of shared faith.

A university may be about ‘accessibility’, but it should also be about history.

It should tell the truth about its own history, not airbrush it away, which is what the re-designed crest seems to be seeking to do.

Trendiness in old institutions is a bit like an old lady in a mini-skirt: laughable. However shapely her legs.


A new era in Anglo-Irish relations

Soon after Queen Elizabeth II returns from her visit to the Pope, she will, of course, be receiving President Michael D. Higgins, with his wife Sabina, in an unprecedented state visit by an Irish President to London and Windsor.

Buckingham Palace has been giving briefings to the effect that this visit is ‘exceptional’, and the Queen, the Royal Household and the entire panopoly of the political establishment place great value upon it.

Indeed, Anglo-Irish relations have not been this cordial since 1914, when the Queen’s grandfather, George V, signed the Home Rule Bill, which was expected to usher in a new era of happy co-operation between Ireland and Britain. Until the First World War intervened.

I am sure the state visit will be a great success – and I’ll be rivetted to hear what Michael D. has to say to the money-men of the City of London, with whom he will be dining in great style. Fat-cat financiers are not exactly his cup of tea.

It’s a tough job – but someone has to do it!

There will be two religious aspects of the visit: to Westminster Abbey, where the President will lay a wreathe at the tomb of the unknown soldier, and subsequently to Coventry Cathedral.

Interestingly, as between the Queen and the President, I think it accurate to say that the Queen is by some measure the more religious. She has said, on several occasions, that she could not have got through some of the difficulties of her life without the sustenance of her religious faith. Our President, by contrast, rather pointedly left the ‘Christ’ out of his Christmas broadcast. The unexpected turns of history is a never-ending source of fascination, surely.


The impact of ‘soft power’

Last weekend, Pope Francis was meeting President Obama, who was pictured cracking up at some joke the Holy Father was making. This week, the Pope was  greeting the Queen of the United Kingdom and her overseas realms. A commentator on the BBC asked: “Why does everyone want to meet the Pope?”

Obviously,  the Holy Father represents the spiritual leadership of the world’s billion Catholics, and that spiritual role is the central one. But world leaders also want to meet him for other, less spiritual reasons: one of these being because he has an incalculable degree of ‘soft power’.

‘Soft power’ has emerged as a concept in recent years as a contrast to ‘hard power’. Those who have ‘hard power’ have armies to enforce their will and political clout to rule over the lives of men and women. ‘Soft power’ is more elusive to define: but it is a recognisable influence and player, and can effect great changes.

The miscalculation that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore made when they closed down the Irish Embassy to the Holy See was because they were not savvy enough to understand ‘soft power’. Enda Kenny had so little understanding that he was photographed playing with his mobile phone during an audience with Pope Benedict.

But ‘soft power’ attracts people into its magnetic field and its attractions become irresistable. Messrs Kenny and Gilmore thought they could curry more voters’ favour at home by bashing the Holy See. Then they learned how mistaken they had been. Soft power.