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Tony Blair and the Catholic Church

May 18, 2007

What I know about British politics (well, since Churchill stood down) would fit into a post smaller than this one, so I shan’t discuss Tony Blair’s leadership of the Labour Party or that fascinating nation. But there is much talk about Blair’s possible conversion to Catholicism, and much of that talk is quite sloppy, so I thought I’d offer a few canonical clarifications.

1. Blair’s conversion would not be “a feather in the cap of the Church” or a “jewel in the crown of Catholicism”, or the fulfillment of any other sloganesque phrase. The Church is not interested in feathers or jewels, She is interested in souls (1983 CIC 1752), and Tony Blair has one.

2. Tony Blair’s obvious friendliness toward the Church does not count as a “baptism of desire” for at least two reasons. First, Bair is already baptized, so there’s no baptism for him to desire (1983 CIC 845). Second, his way into the Church would essentially be by profession of faith. Thus, wanting to profess the faith, even for decades, doesn’t accomplish anything if one neglects to make the profession necessary to join the Church.

3. Tony Blair’s conversion would not make his marriage a sacrament. A valid marriage between two baptized parties is already a sacrament (1983 CIC 1055); Blair’s wife, Cherie, is a baptized Catholic, ergo, he is already in a sacramental marriage.

Those are the three misunderstandings I’ve encountered so far. If I come across any others, I’ll try to address them here. Cheery bye, what what. . .

Oh, while I have you, one last thing: If Tony Blair converts to Catholicism, I really hope that the phrase “crossing the Tiber” (or, “swimming the Tiber”, or “jumping in the Tiber”, or anything else having to do with the Tiber) will not be used to denote it.

The phrase “crossing the Tiber” has absolutely no foundation in theological, historical, or literary circles. The phrase “crossing the Rubicon” means something, as does “crossing the Delaware”. Both denote making some kind of dramatic choice because, when the phrases came into being, the circumstances on one side of these fabled rivers clearly differed from circumstances on the other. But there’s nothing different about one side of the Tiber compared to the other. Rome (literally and figuratively) lies on both sides of the Tiber! The only thing that people who cross the Tiber get is wet. But ever since Steve Ray used the phrase as a catchy title for his engrossing conversion story, everybody and his brother uses “crossing the Tiber” as a euphemism for “conversion”. But it can’t possibly mean that, for there isn’t a euro’s worth of difference between one side of the Tiber and the other.

Now, this the last time I’m going to complain about this ersatz term. If I hear it once more, I’m gonna cross the Huron, and y’all know what that means!

PS: A priest friend reminds me of Wiltgen’s 1967 book, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a brilliant title that actually meant something then and still means something today, as those of you who read Wiltgen already know.

Update, 22 December 2007. Tony Blair came into full communion yesterday.

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