Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it being nine months before her birthday comes round again. [Note for anyone who is already confused: the Immaculate Conception is about the conception of Mary, not about the virgin birth of Jesus – so you can save all those “Oh Joseph, that was immaculate” jokes… The Church celebrates the conception of Jesus Christ on the Feast of the Annunciation.]
The doctrine that Our Lady was conceived without stain of sin (macula) is one of those that people get very heated up about. Christians have believed and celebrated it since at least the Ninth Century, but it wasn’t declared an official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church until 1854. Until then, you were allowed to argue about it all you wanted, as long as you didn’t call the other side nasty names. Seems fair enough to us.
The arguments over the doctrine were mostly centred around obscure theological and philosophical problems, which the Vicar couldn’t really be bothered to explain to us (and, to be honest, we weren’t all that fussed about listening to her). But, like all the great theological debates of the Church, there were some more mundane issues going on too – in this case, a bit of good old-fashioned xenophobia.
Most of the early champions of the doctrine were English, whereas a lot of the big shots on the Continent, like Aquinas and Bonaventure, remained unconvinced. Bonaventure even called it “the foreign doctrine,” clearly implying that English people are a bit barmy and believe some quite odd things. We couldn’t possibly comment.
The English Church has always had a rather independent take on Catholic doctrine and tradition, so they just went on celebrating the Feast anyway, and waited for Rome to catch up.
Nowadays, the Church of England has gone back to the earliest roots of the Festival, and calls it simply The Conception of the BVM; so in this instance, it really is true that you can believe what you want in the C of E.
We’ve been celebrating the Feast by getting to know our new housemates. The Vicar’s been threatening to start a menagerie for months now, and we knew something was up a few weeks ago when she and the Cellarer arrived back from a drive to Tipton Pobley (or somewhere) with a large glass tank.
First we thought it might be for fish, but the tank had shelves, which made it a rather unlikely aquarium. We quickly discounted anything with more than four legs, or anything that eats live insects; invertebrates are definitely not in the Vicar’s contract.
We had abandoned all hope of anything even vaguely rodenty too, because the Cellarer is a well-known suriphobic and we very much doubted that he would have allowed a mouse house in his car. But, lo and behold (and this doesn’t happen often), we were wrong!
The Vicar had come back from Church looking particularly weary yesterday, muttering darkly about early mornings, radio interviews, TV cameras, girl bishops and whose stupid idea was it in the first place… But she’d hardly had time to start her customary forty thousand winks when there was a ring on the doorbell. In walked a lovely young woman, bearing in her arms a veritable miscellany of substrate, food, toys, water bottles and … GERBILS!!!
Unfortunately, this exciting narrative has to stop exactly here, as we (the Popes of the Peninsula, no less!) were rudely evicted from our own front room. By the time we were allowed back in, the nice lady from Bath Gerbil Rescue had disappeared, the tank was full of wood shavings and bits of cardboard, and the Cellarer had undergone some sort of dramatic conversion, having spent about twenty minutes cuddling a rat.
Luckily, the Vicar had her camera on hand as we finally got to meet our new friends. So we are glad to present to you, in photo montage style (a la Jackie comic 1982), the day that Forton Vicarage became home to two Mongolian Gerbils: