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WSJ Resists Entropy, Finds Faith


Both report the police raided Fr. Contin’s home, and noted the Bishop of Padua was awaiting the results of their criminal investigation, saying he will act once the law has run its course.

Yet only the Sun tells us why the law is at issue. Why are the police involved? Are the police called out in Padua every time there is an orgy, or just clerical orgies? I must say the Italians do things with style. When we Episcopal priests gather for a wild time, it means wearing Bermuda shorts on the golf course.

The Independent story works on a premise that sexual misconduct by clergy (not involving children) is subject to criminal investigation. While the Catholic Church does have its own “church police,” e.g., the Swiss Guard, they were not called out to investigate. It is left to the Sun to state the police became involved after allegations of “pimping” (criminal pandering and procurement) were leveled against the vicar.

All of which led me to think of Tom Stoppard’s play, Arcadia. Set in a country house in Derbyshire, it moves between 1809 and the present day, juxtaposing the lives of modern to past residents.

In 1809, Thomasina Coverly, the daughter of the house, is presented as a precocious teenager with ideas about mathematics, nature and physics well ahead of her time. Her character is based upon the historical figure Lady Caroline Lamb (who coined the phrase ‘bad, mad and dangerous to know’ about Lord Byron). Thomasina studies with her tutor Septimus Hodge, a friend of Lord Byron, who is an unseen guest in the house.

In the present, writer Hannah Jarvis and literature professor Bernard Nightingale converge on the house: she to investigate a hermit who once lived on the grounds, and he to research a mysterious chapter in the life of Byron. As their studies unfold with the help of Valentine Coverly, a post-graduate student in mathematical biology, the truth about what happened in Thomasina's time is revealed -- with Thomasina formulating the laws of entropy -- the second law of thermodynamics.

Stoppard’s play argues that in some sense, we have always known about these physical laws of inevitable decay and decline. Writing (in real life) in exile in Switzerland in 1816, Lord Byron speaks to their implications in his poem, Darkness. It begins:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air

The later Victorian poets, such as Tennyson’s In Memoriam or Arnold’s Dover Beach, dwelt upon this sense of loss. Tennyson’s poem, his response to the death of Arthur Henry Hallam and the loss that entailed for him, grew in its hundred pages to a reflection on the anxieties wrought by the changing social, economic, political, familial and social relationships of the day. By Arnold’s time this change focused on the death of the numinous. All was decay, all was misery, all was loss.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

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