Peter Geach

But of course, we are all Jacobites up here in the High Doganate. (See here.) We do not allow this to distract us, however, from our loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen. While it is true, quite frankly, that she is not a Stuart, Elizabeth II is a very fine Queen: the bestest you could imagine. And, a considerable improvement on the previous Elizabeth (daughter of the monster, Henry VIII, and of his tart, Anne Boleyn), who was death on Catholics.

I have this “theory” (in the post-modern sense), that while contradictory loyalties are impermissible in religion, they are perfectly normal in civil (“secular”) life, and might even be encouraged, for they make a practical alternative to violence. I know several United Statist Americans, for instance, who are monarchist to the bone, yet pledge unhesitating allegiance to the Flag of their Republic.

Doctor Johnson, an unimpeachably Tory guide, expressed this double standard nicely when, notwithstanding his own openly Jacobite sympathies, and permanent opposition to that soi-disant “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 (to which arguably he owed his freedom as a journalist), he was offered a pension by the reigning Hanover king. He took it; and to his young friend Boswell, who mentioned howls against this apparent hypocrisy, he replied, laughing:

“Why, sir, it is a mighty foolish noise that they make. I have accepted of a pension as a reward which has been thought due to my literary merit; and now that I have this pension, I am the same man in every respect that I have ever been; I retain the same principles. It is true that I cannot now curse the house of Hanover; nor would it be decent for me to drink King James’s health in the wine that King George gives me money to pay for. But, sir, I think the pleasure of cursing the house of Hanover, and drinking King James’s health, are amply overbalanced by three hundred pounds a year.”


It is the anniversary of Peter Geach, who died age ninety-seven last year. He is one of my great heroes and, oddly enough, he was married to another one: Elizabeth Anscombe. As ever, these days, gentle reader may look them up in the Wicked Paedia, should the names not of themselves ring out in glory for him. They were, in different but highly complementary ways, two of England’s finest minds, whose interests converged in philosophical logic. It is thanks to Anscombe that we can begin to plumb the depth of Wittgenstein’s analytical reasoning, and perhaps also to her that he died a Catholic; but her own works go well beyond this. It is thanks to Geach (though acting not alone) that we have “Analytical Thomism” on our plates for future digestion. Geach and Anscombe alike applied the best of XXth-century analytical reasoning to develop the insights of the high Scholastics, and bring them (as it were) up to date. And while I may have no right to an opinion, on matters passing often over my head, I am nevertheless persuaded that something extremely fruitful was achieved.

They were both knock-you-down-the-stairs Catholic (by conversion), and fecund, too, with respect to children. I collect anecdotes of their domestic life. Among my favourite is when a lost child was returned to them by the police. Peter glared at the errant infant, presented at the front door. He then called out to his wife: “Is this one of ours?” (Alas, the outraged teller of this tale did not smoak the remark’s drollness.)

Another is of one of their youngest, told that if her teddy bear wasn’t in the parlour it must be in her bedroom. “That doesn’t follow!” the little girl parried; for logic had spread through the household.

I think of them, too, in their parish church, on a Sunday when the priest was uttering sentimental bosh from the pulpit. Peter Geach stood up to declare, “That is heresy!” — and the whole tribe of them marched out.

It is bad manners to interrupt homilies, but there are worse things than bad manners, and heresy is certainly among them. It would be a real service if “progressive” priests today were frequently confronted with their crimes, and if necessary driven out of the priesthood. Indeed, I attribute our current priest shortage to the failure to drive bad priests out. They have a terribly demoralizing effect on the faithful, and contribute to the perception that being a Catholic priest is a low calling. Conversely, charity requires that parishioners be confronted, who claim to be Catholic when they have not embraced every sentence of the Creed. They thus become, until properly catechized, a serious impediment to the genuine growth of the Church. We are, after all (as Geach himself often observed) supposed to be directing the sheep towards Heaven and away from Hell, not the other way.

Vox clamantis in deserto, as it was proclaimed in the Mass this morning.  Parate viam Domini: rectas facite semitas ejus!

(Or, as we say in English: “Make straight the way of the Lord!”)


On another “theory” I have, that recommending one book may make more sense than recommending ten, I want to call attention to Peter Geach’s Virtues. (Look here.) I think this the most useful, and immediately accessible, of all his works, and perhaps the most exhilarating. The summary table of contents alone should alarm and excite every sloppy thinker, who has tired of his own wetness. Geach turns his formidable intellectual powers upon those Seven — the four Cardinal Virtues, inherited from the Greeks, and the three Theological Virtues, added by Saint Paul — to show what they are, and what they are not. As a young Anglican, freshly converted to Christianity, I recall the effect this book had on me: of waking up whenas I had been sleeping.

Geach does not provide the last word on the subject, nor pretend to provide it. He is content instead to show that the Virtues make internal sense, how they cast light on each other, and the deadly seriousness with which they must be taken. That is more than enough for 170 pages, every sentence of which is not only perfectly hung, but to a good mind, thrilling.