Opinion & Features

Letters & emails

Obesity, genes and St Thomas Aquinas

SIR – Mary Kenny (Comment, February 1) says that a new report sheds light on the long-running debate about whether obesity is caused by genes or a lack of willpower.

I tend to believe it is genetic, but not solely for scientific reasons. Consider the example of St Thomas Aquinas. While we cannot be sure about his exact appearance, it is widely believed that he was severely overweight. GK Chesterton, for example, wrote: “St Thomas was a huge heavy bull of a man, fat and slow and quiet; very mild and magnanimous but not very sociable; shy, even apart from the humility of holiness; and abstracted, even apart from his occasional and carefully concealed experiences of trance or ecstasy.”

Another Catholic writer put it more bluntly: “St Thomas Aquinas was a compulsive over-eater who was not just fat but morbidly obese and physically grotesque.”

But is it likely like someone who was disciplined enough to write the 3,000-page Summa Theologica and to spend sufficient time in daily prayer to become a saint was unable to resist the allure of fattening food?

Surely portly saints are another argument for the genetic side of the obesity debate.

Todd Jones
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Pope Francis and the Liberationists

SIR – I refer to the letter (January 25) which linked Pope Francis, so-called Liberation Theology, the Jesuits, and recent statements from the Vatican on the dreadful situation in certain Latin American countries.

The Jesuits and the Pope come in for some criticisms on the basis of sweeping assertions. I would point out the proponent of Liberation Theology was Fr Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Dominican; that the Pope was then the Jesuit Provincial in Argentina and took active steps to warn his priests and his flock not to confuse a very proper preference for the poor with an ideology that denies the Gospels, and that the debate over the application of some revolutionary policy raged for many years (and still does).

I took part in this debate as a member of Catholic societies at London University at the time. The object was to relieve the oppression across Latin America, whether by left- or right-facing dictatorships. Just as the Pope’s comments now are directed at improving the lot of the oppressed, not of inflaming the situation.

As an example, throughout the Great War Pope Benedict XV refused to take one side or the other, condemning the iniquities of the slaughter itself. Is this so very different?

Your columns are too often full of correspondence defending one position or another, often by denigrating the perceived opponent. Better to accept, on all sides, the proposition “but I might be wrong”, and then to enter a discussion founded on facts and reason and informed by prayer, so that each of us may see the spark of the Divine in the other and approach such issues accordingly.

Peter Gordon-Smith
Stalybridge, Greater Manchester

Staging synods

SIR – Archbishop Anthony Fisher says he was surprised to discover that the youth synod in Rome last October was “stage-managed” (Cover story, February 1). Perhaps if he were more familiar with Church history, he wouldn’t have been.

In his illuminating study of the First Vatican Council, John W O’Malley explains how Pope Pius IX pulled the strings, in a rather blatant fashion, to ensure that the council fathers offered overwhelming support for the definition of papal infallibility.

Since Paul VI permanently established the synod of bishops in 1965, these gatherings have often been meticulously stage-managed affairs, reliably endorsing the priorities of the Holy Father.

Any bishop participating in synods should surely be aware that heavy-handed top-down control is not the exception but the rule.

John McWilliams
Baltimore, Maryland

Cromwell’s triumph

SIR – Not for the first time, I find myself in whole-hearted agreement with the views of your columnist Ann Widdecombe (Comment, February 1) when she expresses an intense dislike of the person and historical record of Oliver Cromwell.

However, it seems to me that most of Miss Widdecombe’s criticisms can be summed up as genuine intellectual dissent from Cromwell’s heavily autocratic political style and beliefs, together with the brutality of his military and occupation policies in Ireland.

Unfortunately, this completely ignores Cromwell’s bias towards, and triumph achieved for, the forces of Puritism an extreme form of Protestantism) and the crushing of the embryonic High Anglican movement, which sought to restore many of the religious practises abolished at the English Reformation, and which later grew into Tractarianism and Anglo-Catholicism.

Most infamously, Cromwell instigated the judicial murder of the second Stuart king, Charles I (who was married to a Catholic and whose second son, James II, was the last Catholic monarch of this realm), and was offered the prospect of survival if he abandoned his belief in episcopacy. This he utterly refused to countenance.

As an Anglican before my reception into the Catholic Church via the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, I regularly attended the Solemn Requiem which is offered for Charles, King and Martyr, on his feast day ( the day of his martyrdom), January 30, at London’s Banqueting House (the place of his public execution).

Under King Charles I’s then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud (also executed on the orders of Cromwell), huge strides were made to beautify churches – Cromwell and his soldiers subsequently ripped out new furnishings, smashed stained-glass and stabled their horses in sacred buildings – restore ecclesiastic music and begin the revival of religious life in the Church of England.

Undoubtedly, it is now clear to myself and many former orthodox Anglo-Catholics that attempts to “Catholicise” the Church of England were always going to end in failure, but it would be wrong to ignore the sacrificial contribution of martyrs like King Charles and Archbishop Laud.

Richard Eddy
Bristol, Somerset

Wonders of Turin

SIR – Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith’s wonderful tribute to Turin (Diary, February 1) did not provide an exhaustive list of the city’s attractions. Among those not mentioned, I would add the Mole Antonelliana, with its soaring 397ft spire, the Egyptian Museum, the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile (paying tribute to the city’s role in the automotive industry) and the Museum of Eastern Art, set in a 17th-century palace.

And how could I fail to include the Allianz Stadium, home to Juventus, the most successful football team in Italian history?

Sarah McDonald
Turin, Italy