Monday, May 13, 2019

Mgr Gilbey - "Priest of Bacchus"?

source: Catholic Herald
I Drink, Therefore I Am is some very good light reading my Roger Scruton. The author, doubtless familiar to readers of this blog, reflects on the personal and cultural education and joy wine has brought him over the years, from his students days bumming glasses of rare Burgundian wines from sleeping friends to his more mature experiences.

In the first chapter he recounts his Cambridge acquaintance with architectural historian David Watkin, whom he describes as "someone who had fallen from the heights of inherited affluences and who was struggling to maintain himself in elegant decline." Watkin, who only died last year, introduced Scruton to the Cambridge chaplain, Mgr. Alfred Gilbey, the third "priest of Bacchus" in Scruton's wine education.
"Monsignor Gilbey, meticulously dressed in the style of an Anglican clergyman of Jane Austen's day, crouching forward in a bergère chair as though interrupted in the course of a confessional.... [he] confined his adverse judgement of my bohemian dress to a rapid sweep of the eyes, and then rose to take me by the hand as though welcoming the Prodigal Son....
"And indeed, as I came to know them better, I came to understand both of them as accomplished thespians, who had chosen their roles and chosen to be meticulously faithful to them. To say this is not to make a criticism. On the contrary, it is testimony to their great strength of character that, having understood the moral and aesthetic chaos of the world into which they were born, they each of them recognized that there is only one honest response to it, which is to live your life as an example. That is what Alfred Gilbey was to David Watkin; and it is what David Watkin has been to me....
"Although the Monsignor was a priest of Bacchus, he was also an apostle of Christ and a devotee of order in all its forms. He spent less time seated at his special table than kneeling in his private chapel (both situated, as it happens, in the Travellers' Club in Pall Mall). Convinced that it is in the nature of truth to give offence, he lived in a small, charmed circle of recusants, secure in the belief that 'in my Father's house there are many mansions', so that death would not, after all, be a social disaster.
"....The Monsignor, in dedicating his life to Christ, had never doubted that his soul had also been improved by claret, and by the civil dialogues that claret induces in its devotees. His second priesthood therefore fitted naturally behind the first. He knew exactly how to choose from a wine list the unassuming claret which, like his own Loudenne, would make no boastful claims for itself, either on the label or in the glass, which would suggest neither wealth in the purchaser nor ignorance in the guest, and which would rise from the glass with that fresh savour and smiling address that is never more evident than in the better crus bourgeois—not Loudenne only, but the exquisite Chateau Villegeorge or the robust Chateau Potensac, with their simple appellations of Haut-Médoc and plain Médoc. It is, Gilbey taught, in the inner landscape created by these modest clarets, that the soul of the drinker most often encounters the soul of the drink. They are conversational wines, wines to be listened to; and they provided the 'third that walked beside us' when the Monsignor explained to me the orthodoxies of the Catholic faith, and the hierarchies which they seemed, in his beatific vision, to demand of us. I did not go along with what he said, but I wrote of his character and philosophy much later, in Gentle Regrets, remembering with gratitude and affection a man who, on the narrow path marked out for him, went always forward, his bright eyes fixed on the horizon where his Saviour stood."

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