|Abandon hope, all ye who enter here: Cuddesdon theological college|
Edward Knapp-Fisher of blessed memory, sometime Principal of Cuddesdon Theological College, then Bishop of Pretoria, and ultimately Archdeacon of Westminster, had many favourite sayings. When he found any of his charge at Cuddesdon engaged in ribaldry - a not uncommon occurrence - he would pass by muttering "vapid hilarity". If he found anyone idle during a work-period, he would say "custody of time". Such sayings produced a good deal of mirth among us would-be ordinands. But I was reminded of Edward at Mass this morning.
Everything God gives us is precious: so time is not to be wasted. But sight too is precious, and we must not misuse it. The reading at Mass was a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. Today our Lord was telling us that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. He continued by speaking of the eye as the lamp of the body. "If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light;but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness".
In the daily Mass there is little time for a profound homily, but this saying of Our Lord seemed to need some comment. Just as our mouth can take in poison which will harm the whole body, so the eye can take in sights which will also infect and harm us. We are constantly assaulted with images, and some of them are very damaging to us. It is not just that pornography is never more than a mouse-click away when we are on line. Every newspaper, every TV programme, is capable of producing seductive images to distract us from the right path. Thus custody of the eyes is important for Christians; we must always be alert, ready to look away, to switch off.
Usually my mini-homily produces no response. Today was different. Clearly this message had hit home with a few people, and some took the trouble to say so after Mass. Once again I am indebted to Edward Knapp-Fisher, a great college Principal and a faithful teacher - may he rest in peace.. The college where he was head is no more, swept away in the amalgamation with Ripon Hall which produced a hybrid beloved only by theological college inspectors. Neither the anglo-catholic ethos of Cuddesdon nor the liberal evangelical zeal of Ripon survives today. The place may look similar, but Edward Knapp-Fisher would not recognise it. Indeed he once told me privately after preaching at St Stephen's House that he knew where the real Cuddesdon was now to be found... but I could not possibly divulge his answer.